The bacteria can contaminate live chickens duringproduction or transport, or carcasses during scalding. In either case,Campylobacter moves to contaminate respiratory air sacs and could thencontaminate the abdominal cavity, said three scientists working for the US Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
Microbiologists Mark Berrang and Richard Meinersmann andanimal physiologist Richard Buhr studied campylobacter before and after chickencarcasses were scalded to remove feathers, an integral step in poultryprocessing.
In a commercial processing plant, researchers collected tencarcasses on each of three days, before and after scalding. They rinsed theentire carcasses and respiratory tracts and took samples for Campylobacter, E.coli and other bacteria.
The results showed the same type of Campylobacter were inthe carcass and respiratory tract samples. The number and type of Campylobacterin the respiratory tracts remained the same before and after scalding, thescientists found.
"This suggests the respiratory tract is an importantsource of Campylobacter contamination in the interior of the carcass beforescalding," they conclude.
The airborne bacteria could be inhaled by the live birdsduring production or transport, meaning significant levels of the bacteria werealready in their respiratory tracts before processing, they state.
Campylobacter is one of the most common bacterial causes ofdiarrheal illness in the US. The bacteria causes campylobacteriosis in humansand can result in diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two tofive days after exposure to the organism.
Some persons who are infected with Campylobacter don't haveany symptoms at all, according to the US department of health.
In persons who are already ill, Campylobacter occasionallyspreads to the bloodstream and can cause a life-threatening infection.
According to estimates, Campylobacteriosis affects about one millionpeople every year in the US, or 0.5 per cent of the population.