Salmonella outbreak highlights backyard chicken concerns

Chickens aren’t just for the farm anymore. More and more city and suburban residents are building coops and raising flocks in their own backyards. But as poultry and humans increasingly share their living spaces, health problems can arise.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report stating that multiple ongoing outbreaks of Salmonella can be attributed to backyard chicken flocks. Out of 372 cases of human infection, 71 people have been hospitalized.

Salmonella tends to be associated with poultry meat and eggs as a foodborne illness. So why did the CDC attribute the outbreaks to live backyard poultry? After interviews with infected individuals, the CDC found that 83% of interviewees had recent contact with live poultry. Many of these individuals reported purchasing chicks and ducklings from various sources such as hatcheries, feed stores and relatives.

How do people get sick from live poultry? Bacteria may be present in the bird’s droppings, or on the feathers, beak and feet of the bird. Humans may come into contact when carrying chickens, or when cleaning coops and pens. If owners aren’t careful, they might introduce the bacteria to their own bodies when they eat or have their hands near their mouths.

No single strain is to be blamed in the outbreaks; 8 strains have been detected, including Salmonella Enteritidis. The various strains have been found in 47 out of 50 U.S. states since January. 36% of those infected are under the age of 5. More outbreaks are possible, according to the CDC.

“Outbreaks linked to contact with live poultry have increased in recent years as more people keep backyard flocks,” the CDC said in its report. “In 2016, a record number of illnesses were linked to contact with backyard poultry.” The CDC reported 895 cases of Salmonella due to live poultry contact between January and September 2016.

Staying safe

In its report and on its website, the CDC offers many helpful tidbits to backyard poultry owners who want to keep themselves and their families safe:

  • Always, always, always wash hands thoroughly after handling live poultry or touching anything in their living environment.
  • Live poultry can hang out in their own home. Keep them out of your house — especially your kitchen.
  • Keep kids under age 5, elderly persons and anyone else with a weaker immune system away from live poultry. Young children are prone to putting anything they come across in their mouth — not good.
  • When handling live poultry, wear gloves. No matter how much you love them, don’t kiss or cuddle the birds or bring them near your mouth in any way. Just blow your little buddies a kiss from afar.
  • Don’t eat or drink anything while you’re in the poultry coop or pen.
  • If you’re in the U.S., you can buy poultry from hatcheries that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan, a program that aims to reduce Salmonella in baby poultry.

Neogen offers a wide variety of animal safety products to keep poultry healthy and their living spaces clean. Click here for more information.

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