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Salmonella and Backyard Chickens

Salmonella and Backyard Chickens

Every couple of years the CDC puts out warnings about getting Salmonella from chickens.  With the popularity of backyard flocks, especially during the era of Covid 19, they are once again warning of the dangers of holding, hugging, keeping your flock.

But what exactly are the facts?

Salmonella is a food poisoning. You primarily can get it from eating infected meat or eggs that have not been properly and thoroughly cooked.  But there is another avenue of transmission that we all need to be aware of.  Salmonella can also be transmitted by coming into contact with an item that is contaminated by fecal matter and then touching your mouth and face. The groups that are most at risk from getting salmonella in this manner are the very young, very old, pregnant and the immune compromised individuals. 

So anything that is used in the coop and run area is subject to contamination.  In fact, you can get Salmonella, and many other kinds of bacteria and parasites for that matter, from any of your pets.  How many times have you gotten onto Rover for chowing down on any number of things while outside?  Yet, the CDC does not warn you to not have dogs and cats.  Nor do they tell you not to touch them or pick them up even though more people get sick from these pets than from pet chickens.

When keeping pets of any kind it is important to keep exposure at reasonable, manageable levels and to follow some basic common sense precautions.  The CDC recommends the following to reduce the chance of contracting Salmonella:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching live poultry or equipment. Adults should supervise hand washing by young children. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Don’t let children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65, or people with weakened immune systems from conditions such as cancer treatment, HIV/AIDS or organ transplants, handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Avoid kissing your birds or snuggling them, and then touching your mouth.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment used to raise or care for live poultry, such as cages, feed or water containers.
  • Buy birds from hatcheries that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan (USDA-NPIP) U.S. voluntary Salmonella Monitoring Program. This program is intended to reduce the incidence of Salmonella in baby poultry in the hatchery, which helps prevent the spread of illness among poultry and people.

The CDC has also issued this statement, "Salmonella is usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with small amounts of animal feces rather than by contact with chickens.  This is how you get outbreaks from bagged salad, spinach, onions or apples."

Once you understand the modes of transmission and how to keep the possibility of exposure manageable you should be able to enjoy your animals to the fullest!

Have you or your family ever gotten sick from handling your chickens?  I'd love to hear from you!