Backyard poultry breeders should take extra caution when working with poultry as North Carolina is part of a multi-state outbreak of human Salmonella infections linked to contact with live poultry in backyard flocks. The Centers for Disease Control has seen 26 cases in North Carolina. Overall, there have been seven separate outbreaks nationwide since January, several of which have included cases from North Carolina. There have been 35 states involved, with 324 reported infections, of which 66 cases involved hospitalization and there has been one reported death.
Despite the warning, this shouldn’t deter people from keeping their birds or starting a new hobby, says Dr. Sarah Mason, director of NCDA&CS poultry health programs. “Backyard poultry is a great hobby, and we encourage people to keep chickens if they take appropriate precautions to keep themselves, their families and surrounding poultry safe,” Mason said. “Poultry owners must remember that birds inherently have a degree of risk, and even though they feel like members of the family, birds should be kept out of human living areas.”
This shouldn’t deter people from keeping their birds or starting a new hobby, says Dr. Sarah Mason, director of NCDA&CS poultry health programs.
According to the CDC, most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most individuals recover without treatment. In some cases, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites. In these cases, Salmonella can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.
Mason says there is no surefire way to test your flock for Salmonella, as sometimes the birds shed the bacteria and sometimes they don’t. The best thing to do is to assume your birds are infected with Salmonella and to practice good hand hygiene. There are vaccines available for some strains of Salmonella. If you have young children or elderly people at home, discuss vaccinations with your veterinarian to determine if there is an appropriate vaccine option for your flock.
Advice to backyard flock owners
The CDC has the following recommendations for backyard poultry owners:
Contact with live poultry and their environment can make people sick with Salmonella infections. Live poultry can be carrying Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness. Follow these steps for protecting yourself and others while enjoying backyard poultry:
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Also wash your hands after handling clothes and shoes that have touched live poultry. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until you are able to wash your hands with soap and water.
- Do not let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
- Do not eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
- Children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65, and people with weakened immune systems should not handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry. People in these groups are more likely to have a severe illness from Salmonella infection.
- Do not snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry.
- Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for live poultry, such as cages, feed or water containers.
- Read CDC’s recommendations for taking care of your backyard flock, which apply to all live poultry, regardless of the age of the birds or where they were purchased.