The researcher identifies a new mode of transmission of bacteria


This scanning electron microscope image shows the characteristic spiral-shaped, or corkscrew, shape of C. jejuni cells and related structures. Credit: De Wood; digital coloring by Chris Pooley / Public Domain

Campylobacter infection, one of the most common foodborne illnesses in the Western world, can also spread through sexual contact, according to a new discovery from research by a faculty member at Hudson University College of Health , who works together with colleagues from Denmark.

The team’s research has been published in Emerging infectious diseases, a journal published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and is the first known study to demonstrate this mode of transmission by Campylobacter. At a time when COVID-19 has dominated news about infectious diseases, research recalls that many other pathogens affect lives around the world every day. The study was led by infectious disease epidemiologist Katrin Kuhn, PhD, adjunct professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at OU Hudson College of Public Health.

“This research is important for public health messages and for doctors as they talk to their patients about the risks associated with sexual contact,” Kuhn said. “Although Campylobacter infection is not usually a serious illness, it causes diarrhea, which can cause people to lose their jobs, lose productivity or perhaps lose their jobs. It poses an additional risk to people with underlying health conditions. “.

Campylobacter infections usually occur when people eat chicken that has not been thoroughly cooked or when uncooked poultry juices do not open into other foods. Infections can also be caused by drinking unpasteurized milk or water contaminated with the feces of infected animals. However, these did not account for all cases of infection, Kuhn said, and wondered if there was another route of transmission that remained unproven. An outbreak of Campylobacter infections in northern Europe among men who have sex with men prompted her to study that population in Denmark, where she worked when the research began.

The results of the study showed that the rate of Campylobacter infection was 14 times higher in men who had sex with men than the control subjects. Although the study focused on men who have sex with men, the results are relevant to people of any sexual orientation who engage in sexual behavior that may involve fecal-oral contact, Kuhn said.

Two other bacteria, Salmonella and Shigella, were used as comparisons in the study. Salmonella is spread mainly through infected food, while Shigella can be transmitted through food or through sexual contact. Salmonella has a high infectious dose, meaning people need to ingest a significant amount of bacteria before they get sick. However, Shigella and Campylobacter have low infectious doses, which facilitates transmission.

“This is an additional reason why we believe Campylobacter can be transmitted as is Shigella, because people can get infected when there are only small amounts of bacteria, ”Kuhn said.

Campylobacter infections are probably more common than the figures show. For every person who goes to the doctor and is diagnosed, epidemiologists estimate that 20 more people are infected, Kuhn said. Although treatment is usually needed only in severe cases, complications can occur, especially in people who have a compromised immune system. In some cases, can cause reactive arthritis, in which the body’s immune system is attacked, causing joint pain. The infection can also lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious nervous disorder that can cause paralysis.

“This is an interesting time because COVID-19 has made people aware of the importance of controlling infectious diseases in general, not just during a pandemic,” he said. “There are many infections like the one caused by Campylobacter that cause diseases in people. It is important that we highlight the fact that these diseases exist and that we continue to research about their effects and modes of transmission.”

Prior to arriving at OU Hudson College of Public Health, Kuhn had major infections epidemiologist at Statens Serum Institute in Denmark. His work focused on food and waterborne infections and was responsible for national surveillance of Campylobacter and Shigella. He began this study in Denmark and completed it after moving to Oklahoma. Statens Serum Institute is the Danish National Institute of Infectious Diseases and the leading institute for infectious disease surveillance and research in Denmark.

“A formal collaboration between the OU Hudson College of Public Health and Statens Serum Institute will build a solid foundation for strengthening transatlantic research and, not least, improving the way we control, understand and prevent in Oklahoma, ”Kuhn said.

Significantly more Danes infected with campylobacter in 2019

More information:
Katrin Gaardbo Kuhn et al, Sexual contact as a risk factor for Campylobacter infection, Denmark, Emerging infectious diseases (2021). DOI: 10.3201 / eid2704.202337

Citation: Researcher identifies a new mode of bacterial transmission (2021, May 21) recovered on May 22, 2021 at

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