Pet chickens can carry salmonella

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In recent years, the trend of raising chickens in urban settings across America has had city dwellers flocking to own a pet providing several fringe benefits that not all other animals can give.  Chickens are a source of entertainment, they’re relaxing to watch, they eat bugs, they’re docile (except for aggressive roosters), companionable for the most part and they lay eggs.  But chickens can also give you something else that you won’t be crowing about – salmonella.

The Centers for Disease Control reported that so far in 2016, 611 people in 45 states have contracted salmonella from their backyard companions of not just pet chickens but also pet ducks.  This is the largest number of people contracting salmonella due to live poultry other than in 2013 when 579 people came down with salmonella bacteria.

Between 1990 and 2013, almost 2,200 people got salmonella from live poultry such as chickens with 306 people who were hospitalized and five individuals who died. 

What is salmonella

Salmonella infection is a bacterial disease of the intestinal tract.  It is named after American veterinarian scientist, Dr. Daniel Salmon who also earned the first Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in the United States.  But it was his research assistant, Theobald Smith, who actually discovered the first strain of the bacteria. 

People become infected mostly through contaminated water or foods, especially meat, poultry, and eggs with the illness developing between 12 and 72 hours after infection.

Once a person has salmonella, it can last 4 to 7 days with symptoms of diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps however most individuals will recover without treatment.  If a person requires hospitalization, it is usually due to severe diarrhea.  It is possible for salmonella infection to spread from the intestines to the blood stream putting a person at risk of death unless they are immediately treated with antibiotics.

Anyone with an impaired or weakened immune system, such as the elderly or infants, need to particularly take special precautions to not contract salmonella.

Why chickens may carry salmonella

It is common for chickens and ducks to carry salmonella that naturally lives in the intestines of poultry and other animals. Therefore they can have salmonella in their manure and on their feathers, feet, and beaks, even when appearing healthy and clean.  The same salmonella bacteria can also be present on cages, equipment, bedding, coops and in the soil where the birds are kept. 

Salmonella bacteria can be transferred from birds to humans by way of hands, shoes, and clothing whenever they are handled or being in the area where they are kept.  If a person’s hands are contaminated with the bacteria and it gets in or around the mouth, this is the point of entry.

How to prevent salmonella infection from chickens

If you’re lucky enough to be able to own a flock of chickens it can be a very rewarding experience.  But they are livestock which may possibly carry disease making it important to know how to protect yourself and young children from coming down with salmonella.  Here are ways to greatly reduce your chance of this happening:

·         After handling live poultry or being anywhere near where they live and roam, always wash your hands with soap and water first thing when you come inside.

·         Poultry should not be kept inside a house or anywhere near where food or beverages are prepared.

·         Anyone with a weakened immune system should not handle or touch baby chicks, ducklings or other live poultry.

·         Always thoroughly cook eggs, whether from a grocery store or from someone who raises chickens.

·         Avoid kissing or snuggling with poultry and then touching your mouth.

·         Clean all equipment or materials used to raise or cage chickens outdoors.

·         All poultry meat should be thoroughly cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill salmonella bacteria.  Never eat undercooked poultry.

·         When buying baby chicks, choose hatcheries that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan, a program intended to reduce the incidence of salmonella in baby poultry.