Salmonella Outbreak Linked To Keeping Backyard Chickens, 16 Cases In Washington Confirmed

Raising backyard chickens is nothing new as it has increased in popularity in recent years. People are turning to this lifestyle because of its benefits, including free pest control and a supply of farm-fresh eggs coming from humanely raised chickens. The domesticated fowl also make great pets, but now, health officials are warning owners about the health risks of keeping chickens in their own backyard.

Backyard chickens have now been linked to the salmonella outbreak that have made 350 people nationwide sick. Federal health officials are now investigating the multi-state outbreaks of infection.

In the state of Washington, 16 cases have already been reported coming from Chelan, Cowlitz, Kittitas, Snohomish, Grays Harbor, Mason, Whatcom and Lewis, Pierce, Yakima and King counties.

The Washington State Department of Health said that five people have already been hospitalized due to salmonella infections. No deaths have been reported. Out of the 16 people who were infected, seven were children aged younger than five years old.

In the entire nation, 71 people have already been hospitalized, but no deaths have been recorded.

The Utah Department of Health, on the other hand, confirmed 10 reported cases. The department’s epidemiologist, Dallin Peterson, said that “a couple of people” have been sent to the hospital.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the outbreaks are linked to contact with live chicks and other poultry, as suggested by laboratory findings.

CDC warns the health risks brought by backyard chickens
[Image by kupicoo/iStock]

Salmonella infection or salmonellosis involves the gastrointestinal tract, and this illness can be serious especially for immunocompromised individuals like pregnant women, children and the elderly. Symptoms of the infection include nausea and vomiting, fever, chills, the presence of blood in stool and severe abdominal pain.

The infection is usually not life-threatening, and it may resolve within days with or without treatment. In some cases, though, the infection can be so serious and fatal complications may result, especially if treatment is not given. Antibiotics are usually administered to patients, but severe cases may require intravenous medication.

Salmonella infection doesn’t necessarily result from the consumption of undercooked or raw eggs, Dr. Sherrill Davison, an associate professor at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, confirmed to CBS News.

“A lot what is going on is not related to the eggs. People need to handle poultry safely.”

While raw eggs can carry the risk of salmonellosis, most infections happen during improper handling of chickens, especially when dealing with their fecal matter. People can get in contact with chicken droppings and touch their mouths after without realizing it.

The CDC has previously observed the rise in the number of people keeping backyard chickens, and with that, there has been a rise in salmonella cases as well. Backyard chickens kept as pets may look healthy but the agency warns they should still be handled carefully.

The germs can thrive everywhere; they can be found in coops, hay, cages, soil and plants near areas of the land where the chickens roam freely. Also, the germs can stay in shoes, clothing and hands of the handlers. But there’s an even a quicker way for the germs to be transferred from chickens to humans: kissing.

In 2015, CDC published a study, which found that salmonella cases from 1990 to 2014, were partly from contact with backyard chickens. Forty-nine percent of people involved in the study admitted they had snuggled with chicks while 46 percent said that they let the chickens inside the house.

Backyard chicken owners have admitted to kissing and cuddling with their chickens
[Image by ustin Sullivan/Getty Images]

Federal health officials advise people who are keeping backyard chickens to keep the animals outside their homes and not let them inside, especially in areas where food is prepared or consumed. Most importantly, washing the hands thoroughly should follow after contact with the chickens.

For American Fork resident Bryce Shelley, who is raising backyard chickens for egg supply and controlling weeds, observing proper hygiene when handling chickens is common sense.

“We know about salmonella,” Shelley told WCBV. “If you’ve been touching the chickens or touching the eggs, wash your hands before you eat anything or stick them in your mouth.”

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