Backyard chicken owners
should take steps to reduce
risk of salmonella exposure
Seven separate salmonella outbreaks across 35 states have sickened more than 300 people—19 in Virginia—in the first four months of 2016 and are ongoing. All of the outbreaks are a result of live poultry in backyard flocks.
Agriculture, veterinary and public health officials are collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on the outbreak investigations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of 238 patients interviewed so far, 91% of them—217—reported having contact with live poultry in the week before their symptoms began.
“Ill people reported purchasing live baby poultry from several different suppliers, including feed supply stores, co-ops, hatcheries and friends in multiple states,” the CDC reported. “Ill people reported purchasing live poultry to produce eggs, learn about agriculture, have as a hobby, enjoy for fun, keep as pets, or to give as Easter gifts.”
Patients reported contact with live poultry at their homes and other people’s homes, at work and in school settings.
“It doesn’t matter where the poultry is purchased or whether it’s being raised in a barn, cage or someone’s backyard. Live poultry may carry salmonella,” said Tony Banks, a Virginia Farm Bureau Federation commodity marketing specialist. “Even if the bird appears healthy, the bacteria may be found in its droppings or on its body, feathers, feet and beak. The bacteria also can get on cages, coops, hay, plants, lawn and soil in the area where the birds live.”
Banks said people—and especially children—can be exposed to salmonella by touching, holding or cuddling the birds.
”People really need to understand how important it is to wash their hands after handling poultry or touching cages and bowls,” he said. “Proper sanitation of the poultry housing and supplies is important too.”
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Animal and Food Industry Services distributes informational brochures about salmonella risks of handling poultry every spring to feed stores in preparation for incoming chicks, said Dr. Charles Broaddus, state veterinarian.
“Some feed stores post the flyer around the chicks in an effort to educate the chick buyers,” Broaddus said. “We coordinate with the Virginia Department of Health on that outreach. The most important thing we can do is emphasize the importance of hand washing in prevention of transmission of bacteria.”
Broaddus suggested washing hands after handling any poultry and wearing separate clothes and boots when tending to poultry. “Don’t let children less than 5 handle the birds, as they can’t be trusted to not put their hands in their mouths before proper washing,” he said.