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Backyard Chicks Make More Kids Sick

Infected chicks and ducklings have sickened 71 people — more than half of them younger than 5 — in a growing multistate outbreak of Salmonella that now involves two different strains of the bacteria.

In an update on the outbreak tied to backyard poultry, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that the number of Salmonella Altona infections is now up to 49 cases in 16 states, while another 22 people in 12 states have been infected with Salmonella Johannesburg.

Eighteen people have been hospitalized with severe diarrhea.

Most of those who are ill, or whose children are ill, reported buying the live poultry for either backyard flocks to produce eggs or as pets.

Traceback investigations have indicated that the chicks and ducklings were purchased from multiple locations of a national company, Feed Store Chain A, which says it obtained the poultry from the Ohio-based Mt. Healthy Hatchery.

More than half of the 71 people are younger than 5 years of age. 

Here’s the breakdown on the number of illnesses by state:

As of June 27, a total of 49 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Altona:  Georgia (1), Indiana (1), Kentucky (5), Maryland (4), Michigan (1), Minnesota (1), New Hampshire (1), New York (2), North Carolina (8), Ohio (9), Pennsylvania (5), Tennessee (3), Virginia (4), Vermont (1), Wisconsin (1), and West Virginia (2).

As of June 27,  a total of 22 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Johannesburg: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), Georgia (2), Kentucky (2), Maine (1), New York (3), North Carolina (3), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (1), Tennessee (2), Vermont (2), and West Virginia (1).

Salmonellosis causes diarrhea, fever and painful abdominal cramps. Children are most likely to contract it, and young children are among the most likely to have severe infections. 

In its update on the outbreak, the CDC once again reminded people that poultry can carry disease and that people handling chicks and ducklings need to take common sense precautions: 

– Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.

– If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until you are able to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

– Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.

– Do not let children younger than 5 years of age, elderly persons, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.

– Do not 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.

– Do not snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry.

© Food Safety News
  • dangermaus

    This is why I keep an extra-large bottle of hand sanitizer by my coop, and a nail brush at my sink! Clearly, people getting sick from having contact with chickens is very rare, when you consider just how much people do come into contact with them.
    I wish, though, there were cheap tests for harmful pathogens in chickens and other birds and that there were some more low-impact ways to nudge their intestinal conditions toward having safe gut flora beyond making sure that they’re generally healthy (perhaps something like seed bacteria in their feed like pro-biotic yogurt supposedly does for people). Unfortunately, it would cost money to develop that stuff, and there’s not a lot of money to be made there.

  • JF

    I have been trying to understand whether Salmonella only exists in chicks when you purchase them and then it eventually clears their system as it would in humans, or whether you will always have Salmonella in your chickens and eggs. If anyone could provide clarification, I would greatly appreciate it.
    Is there testing that the average urban chicken owner could do to determine whether their flock carries Salmonella?
    I guess it’s a good sign that we have had chickens for 1.5 yrs now and have not had any diarrheal illness in our family, but then again, I’m pretty meticulous about the handwashing after anyone touches the coop or chickens!

  • dangermaus

    JF
    I’ve looked a little, and I’ve been unable to find anything like a Salmonella testing kit for use by consumers (or anything like that). Obviously, the average person can’t do all the things a trained lab technician can do, but you’d think there’d be SOMETHING out there geared (and priced) for individuals.

  • Minkpuppy

    JF–
    It’s possible for infected hens to pass the bacteria to their chicks through the eggs so I’ve always been under impression that Salmonella can hang around for awhile but I’m not sure about that. (It’s been many many years since my last poultry science and microbiology courses so it’s fuzzy.)
    The amount of risk also depends on how much bacteria the bird is shedding in it’s feces at any given time. It can vary a great deal. A good veterinarian that knows birds and fowl might be able to do some testing of your birds for you and would know a lot more about it. Salmonella is pretty common in birds of all types so that might be your best bet.
    I do know that wild birds and other critters can reinfect your birds even after you clear it up so it’s important to control exposure to wildlife if you can. It’s easier said than done with yard birds though. Wild birds like to eat grain also so they’ll be competing for feed.
    Overall, it sounds like both of you have the right idea for reducing the risk. Keep up the good handwashing habits and proper cooking/chilling and you should be OK!

  • Doc Mudd

    Best to approach the chicken business as though salmonella (and other bugs) are present at all times — just like safe gun handling, always assume the weapon is loaded and always handle it accordingly. Why take stupid chances?

  • mona

    I have a neighbor {we live in a small town in the U.P.) across the street that brought 3 hens and a rooster from downstate. They were older chickens when he got them. Last winter he brought them in the house and let them live in a beautiful cedar tongue and groove sauna. Needless to say it’s ruined. Now they are back outside in the outside cedar sauna w/ a fence around them. My question is, besides how stupid you think this guy is, is I know for a fact he is not very clean. When he comes to my house, which is at least twice a day, ( drives me crazy!} can we get sick from him? He often sniffles and coughs and wpes his hands on his pants. Thank you for any replies or advice!!

  • JennyLee

    This is quite stupid… Wash your hands and cook your food thoroughly… duh. Don’t wear the your garden/coop shoes in the house or where little kids crawl or play.. Geezz… Where is the common sense factor?