Since 2000, backyard poultry flocks have been responsible for more than 70 Salmonella outbreaks in the United States, sickening more than 4,794 people, with 894 hospitalizations and seven deaths; a third of the illnesses were children younger than 5. In 2017 alone, backyard poultry caused 1,120 Salmonella illnesses with cases in 48 states, sending 249 people to hospitals and causing one death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns individuals that contact with live poultry or their environment can make people sick with Salmonella infections. Live poultry can carry Salmonella bacteria while still appearing health and clean. Contact with live poultry can be a source of human Salmonella infections, resulting in the illness know as salmonellosis.
What is salmonellosis? Salmonellosis is an infection with the bacteria Salmonella. Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps – an average of 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the 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 and 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.
How do people catch Salmonella? Salmonella can live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds.Live poultry might have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks), even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can get on cages, coops, feed and water dishes, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Germs also can get on the hands, shoes, and clothes of people who handle or care for the birds. In addition to chicks and young birds, reptiles such as turtles, lizards, and snakes can also carry Salmonella. People should always wash their hands immediately after handling a bird or reptile, even if the animal is healthy, and individuals should avoid placing these pets on or near food-contact surfaces such as tables or counters. Avoid kissing birds and reptiles!
There are several resources to help you stay safe and healthy:
- Egg Safety and the Backyard Flock (UWEX fact sheet)
- Keeping Backyard Poultry (CDC)
- Healthy Families and Flocks (CDC) – Poster
By Barb Ingham, Food Safety Specialist University of Wisconsin-Madison