Health authorities in Wyoming and Yuma County, AZ are reporting sharp increases in the number of Campylobacter infections and, in the case of Yuma County, possibly related increases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).

Campylobacter is a common diarrheal infection that is caused by ingesting fecal bacteria, often from contaminated food or water but also from exposure to farm animals and certain pets. The illness “can be extremely unpleasant,” a Wyoming health official noted, but it can also lead to a life-threatening complication.

In some cases infected people develop GBS, in which the immune system attacks the body’s nerves. It can cause paralysis and usually requires intensive care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 40 percent of GBS disorders are preceded by a Campylobacter infection.

The Wyoming Department of Health said it has identified 29 cases of Campylobacter infections since June 1, a four-fold increase compared with the number typically reported during the same time period. At least six people have been hospitalized.

“While the increase in these infections appears to be sporadic with no single common source, it’s clear than animal-related illness is at least partially driving the increase,” said Kelly Weidenbach, a health department epidemiologist, in a news release.

Most of the case patients interviewed so far had contact with animals, especially cattle and dogs, and in many cases the animals were noted to be ill with diarrhea. Several case patients were ranchers or others who had recently attended a cattle branding, Weidenbach said.

According to a report in the Yuma Sun, health authorities there and across the border in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, have reported an increase in Campylobacter infections and cases of GBS over the past three months.

As of July, there have been six confirmed and one suspected cases of GBS. The Yuma Sun said a June 18 article in Tribuna de San Luis reported 15 cases of GBS there.

The Yuma County Health District said it is working with the Arizona Department of Health Services, the CDC and Sonora health officials to determine the source of the outbreak. “An investigation of this nature takes a lot of time and a lot of people. It’s like putting a puzzle together. You need all the pieces before you see the picture,” said health district director Becky Brooks in a news release.