Do you fondle your chickens? Federal and state health authorities are warning owners of backyard chicken flocks and others who may come in contact with them to take precautions around live poultry as they could be infected with Salmonella.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Aug. 21 that it continues to investigate 10 separate multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella infection linked to backyard chicken flocks. The outbreaks encompass 48 states and the District of Columbia and have sickened 961 people as of Aug. 21. Only Alaska and Delaware have managed to escape the outbreak.
Keep in mind that the CDC’s numbers are cases of infection that have been reported and confirmed. The actual number of people sickened is certainly higher due to the number of unreported illnesses in people who do not seek medical treatment.
These illnesses have resulted in 215 hospitalizations, and one death as a result of infection has been confirmed.
Keeping backyard chickens has become an immensely popular activity in suburban residences throughout the U.S. in recent years. Many communities have modified their zoning and health regulations to accommodate the trend, but if the Salmonella outbreaks expand even more, as the CDC says it expects them to do, then municipal leaders may start reconsidering the loosened laws.
According to the CDC, a third of the 961 infections occurred in preschool-age children, who may be more likely to cuddle the chickens and kiss them. Younger children are also less likely to wash their hands after touching chickens or gathering eggs. Children 5 and younger are also the population most adversely affected by Salmonella infection.
People typically develop symptoms of Salmonella infection within 72 hours of exposure. Symptoms of salmonella infection nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, fever, and headache. Most people will partially recover without treatment after a couple of days, but symptoms may linger in a milder form for a week or even months. Researchers have linked Salmonellosis to the development of arthritis in about two percent of patients in culture-proven cases.
According to the CDC, anyone who keeps flocks of chickens in their back yards should keep in mind these tips:
- Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.
- Don’t let live poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored.
- Don’t let children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65, or people with weakened immune systems from conditions such as cancer treatment, HIV/AIDS or organ transplants, handle or touch live poultry.
- Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
- Avoid kissing your birds or snuggling them, then touching your mouth.
- Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for live poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers.
When collecting eggs from backyard chickens, be sure to keep the CDC’s safety advice in mind:
- Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling eggs, chickens, or anything in their environment.
- Maintain a clean coop. Cleaning the coop, floor, nests and perches on a regular basis will help to keep eggs clean.
- Collect eggs often. Eggs that spend a significant amount of time in the nest can become dirty or break. Cracked eggs should be thrown away.
- Eggs with dirt and debris can be cleaned with fine sandpaper, a brush or cloth. Don’t wash eggs, because colder water can pull bacteria into the egg.
- Refrigerate eggs after collection.
- Cook eggs thoroughly. Raw and undercooked eggs contain salmonella bacteria that can make you sick.
- Know the local regulations around sale of eggs. If you sell eggs, it is important to follow local licensing requirements.