As more and more individuals are creating backyard flocks of chickens and raising chickens as pets, there are some safety tips that all chicken and poultry handlers need to remember to help keep themselves safe. Just like any animals, there are risks that come with having chickens and interacting with them frequently.
Recently, there was an outbreak of Salmonella infections that have been linked to contact with live poultry. As of May 7, 2014, a total of 60 people in 23 states had been infected with a strain of Salmonella, including 3 people from Virginia.
In interviews with the people who had been infected, over 82% of the 38 people who were interviewed reported having some sort of contact with live poultry (such as chicks, chickens, ducks, ducklings) before they became ill. It is very common for chickens, ducks, and other poultry to carry Salmonella. Salmonella is a type of germ that naturally lives in the intestines of poultry and many other animals. Even organically fed poultry can have Salmonella. While it usually does not make the birds sick, Salmonella can cause serious illness when it is passed to other people.
Contact with live poultry can be a source of Salmonella infections. Many of these people who have reported being infected with Salmonella reported bringing the live poultry into their homes and others reported kissing or cuddling with the live poultry. These behaviors increase a person's risk of a Salmonella infection from contact with live poultry. People can get sick even if they do not have direct contact with the live poultry, but touch items and places that have been contaminated in the poultry's environment.
Does this mean that you should not have chickens in your backyard? No! Good practices to help keep you safe include always washing hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam; after collecting eggs from the hens, thoroughly cook them as Salmonella can pass from healthy looking hens into eggs; clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers; if you have free-roaming chickens or poultry assume where they live and roam is contaminated with Salmonella.
Do not let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry; don't eat or drink in the area where birds live or roam; don't 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.
There are many benefits that come from having your own backyard chickens and other poultry. They provide fresh eggs for your family, provide entertainment, eat bugs, and help you become more in touch with where your food comes from. Just remember to practice safe food handling techniques and always wash your hands after doing anything around your birds!
More information can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/features/SalmonellaPoultry/ and http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/farm-animals/backyard-poultry.html