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Winged and dangerous: Backyard chicken trend brings salmonella spike

Birds should be assumed infected unless known otherwise, expert says


All across the country, it’s the latest hip trend in big-city and suburban backyards alike: raising chickens.


But the seemingly harmless farm animals, long the heroes of endless children’s books, too often carry salmonella—which can infect backyard chicken raisers with the oft-dangerous bacteria.


The trend is bringing with it a still-rising number of illnesses from poultry-related diseases.


According to the CDC, over 1,100 people have contracted salmonella poisoning from chickens and ducks in 48 states since January 2017 alone—a figure four times that of 2015.


The new figures include close to 250 hospitalizations and one fatality.


What’s more, “For one salmonella case we know of in an outbreak, there are up to 30 others that we don’t know about,” CDC veterinarian Megin Nichols recently told the Associated Press.


A “large contributing factor” to the surge, Nichols said, comes from natural food fanciers who have taken up the backyard chicken hobby but don’t understand the potential dangers.  Some treat and handle their birds like pets, regularly touching them and giving them free indoor rein.


According to a 2013 U.S. Dept. of Agriculture report, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami and New York City are the trend’s hottest hotspots.  According to the AP, the trend has since spread to every major metro area.


The bad news here is that poultry can carry salmonella bacteria in their intestines that can be shed in waste.  Bacteria can then attach to feathers and dust and brush off on shoes or clothing.


But the good news is that illnesses can be prevented with proper handling.  People raising chickens are recommended to wash their hands thoroughly after handling the birds, eggs or nesting materials, and leave any shoes worn in a chicken coop outside.


According to the CDC’s Nichols, the best way chicken raisers can protect themselves is to assume all birds carry salmonella and treat them carefully.  “We view this as a preventable public health problem and are really hoping we start to see some change,” she told the AP.


Bottom line?  If you’re going to raise chickens, ducks or other backyard birds, first find out if the seller—and the seller’s source hatchery—is salmonella-compliant.


Then, treat all pet poultry as “guilty” of carrying salmonella until proven “innocent.”