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A Bacteria Species That Causes Food Poisoning Can Also Be Sexually Transmitted


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockMay 24 2021, 17:21 UTC
Electron microscope image of Campylobacter. Image Credit: De Wood, Pooley, USDA, ARS, EMU

Electron microscope image of Campylobacter. Image Credit: De Wood, Pooley, USDA, ARS, EMU

Campylobacter is a nasty genus of bacteria that is often responsible for food poisoning in humans. New research from an American-Danish collaboration now suggests that the bacterium can also be transmitted during sex.

These bacteria are usually found in the meat of poultry and spread to humans when such meat is served undercooked, something that can lead to sometimes serious gastroenteritis with vomiting and diarrhea. The research, published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, highlights that sexual contact is a risk factor when it comes to Campylobacter.


The work focused on data from 4,269 men who have sex with men with a matched control sample of 26,215 individuals. The team looked at rates of infection from Campylobacter, Shigella, and Salmonella and found that the first two were a lot more likely than Salmonella. The first two have a smaller infectious dose, so it makes them easier to catch.  

"That's an additional reason why we believe Campylobacter can be transmitted through sexual contact like Shigella is – because people can become infected when only small amounts of the bacteria are present," lead author Dr Katrin Kuhn, an assistant professor at the Oklahoma University Hudson College of Public Health, said in a statement.

While the data collection focused on men who have sex with men, the researchers stress that the risk is present in people of all sexualities whenever anal play, in all its forms, came into the picture. The team stated that for each person getting tested for Campylobacter, there could be 20 that just let the infection run its course.


"This is an interesting time because COVID-19 has made people more aware of the importance of monitoring infectious diseases in general, not only during a pandemic," Kuhn said. "There are many infections like the one caused by Campylobacter that make people sick. It's important that we spotlight the fact that these diseases exist and that we continue to conduct research on their effects and modes of transmission."

According to the World Health Organization, Campylobacter is one of the four major causes of diarrheal diseases in the world and the most common cause of bacterial gastroenteritis. If it can also be transmitted during sex, this changes some of the approaches necessary to curbing its spread.

"This research is important for public health messaging and for physicians as they talk to their patients about risks associated with sexual contact," Kuhn explained. "Although Campylobacter infection is usually not a serious disease, it causes diarrhea, which can result in people missing work, losing productivity or perhaps losing their job. It poses an additional risk for people with underlying health conditions."




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healthHealth and Medicine
  • tag
  • bacteria,

  • Campylobacter,

  • food poisoning,

  • sexually transmitted infections