A recent advisory from the Centers for Disease Control is warning Americans of the hazards of contact with chickens, including the risk of catching salmonella.
This year alone, the CDC has recorded 1,003 cases of salmonella across the U.S., including two deaths. The agency’s suggestions include always washing your hands with soap and water after touching backyard poultry, not letting chickens inside the house and setting aside a separate pair of shoes to wear while taking care of backyard birds.
The most unusual line in the CDC advisory, though, warns owners not to “kiss backyard poultry or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth.”
Most typically, salmonella is transmitted by undercooked poultry, but 67 percent of patients in the latest outbreak reported contact with backyard poultry. In addition six of the strains of identified in this year’s outbreaks were identified in samples collected from backyard poultry environments at homes in California, Minnesota and Ohio, the agency revealed.
Salmonella is a bacterial pathogen that can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps and vomiting. It is most dangerous to young people and the elderly, and can spread from the gastrointestinal system to the bloodstream. It can be fatal if not treated with antibiotics.
Keeping chickens keeping has been a major trend, as interest in organic food and local consumption increases: A 2013 study by the Department of Agriculture showed that slightly under 1 percent of American homeowners owned chickens, with 4 percent more planning to do so in the next five years.
The spread of salmonella might be significantly wider than the numbers reveal, as the majority of infected people recover on their own within a week, without seeking medical attention. “For one salmonella case we know of in an outbreak, there are up to 30 others that we don’t know about,” CDC veterinarian Megin Nichols told the Associated Press in 2017.
Many of these backyard poultry owners do not come from traditional farming backgrounds and treat their birds more like pets. A 2016 CDC report on salmonella patients with poultry revealed that 46 percent allowed their chickens and ducks to freely enter their living spaces.
Although chickens can appear clean and well-groomed, the salmonella bacteria can live on their talons, beaks and other surfaces without being detected.
State and local regulation of residential poultry-keeping is woefully inadequate, experts say. “Ironically, as people seek to take control over the way their food is grown, most ordinances fail to ensure basic health and welfare for birds and humans,” veterinarian Catherine Brinkley wrote in a 2018 report published in The Journal of Community Health.