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Number of illnesses from backyard flocks breaks record

It’s been a record year for so-called backyard flocks, and not in a good way. The live poultry are responsible for 10 Salmonella outbreaks in 2017 —  sickening more than 1,100 people across 48 states, killing one.

Although federal officials have concluded their investigations of the 10 outbreaks identified so far this year, they warned in an update Thursday that additional victims are likely to be identified.

Trendy concepts including locally produced food and a desire for fresh eggs has contributed to a growing number of people keeping backyard flocks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As raising backyard flocks becomes more popular, more people are having contact with chickens and ducks — and may not know about the risk of Salmonella infection,” the CDC warned in an outbreak update on Thursday afternoon.

“Live poultry such as chickens and ducks can be carrying Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean, with no sign of illness.”

Of the 1,120 confirmed cases of Salmonella infection, one death in North Carolina was reported as of Oct. 5. Complete information was not available to the CDC on all confirmed victims, but at least 249 of them had such severe symptoms that they had to be hospitalized. The illnesses began on Jan. 4.

“In interviews, 542 — 70 percent — of 774 ill people reported contact with live poultry in the week before illness started,” the CDC reported.

“People reported purchasing live baby poultry from several sources, including feed supply stores, websites, hatcheries, and from relatives.”

The 10 outbreaks so far this year were caused by Salmonella bacteria with several DNA fingerprints: Salmonella braenderup, Salmonella enteritidis, Salmonella Hadar, Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i-, Salmonella Indiana, Salmonella infantis, Salmonella Litchfield, Salmonella Mbandaka, Salmonella Muenchen, and Salmonella typhimurium.

In 2016, eight outbreaks infected 895 people with Salmonella across 48 states. From 1990 to 2016, a total of 65 outbreaks of human Salmonella infections have been linked to contact with live poultry.

“These outbreaks are a reminder to follow steps to keep your family healthy while enjoying your backyard flock,” the CDC warned. Tips include:

  • Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where the birds live and roam.
  • Adults should supervise handwashing for children.
  • Do not let live poultry inside the house.
  • Do not let children younger than 5 years handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry without adult supervision.

Illness from Salmonella usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. However, in some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that the person needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infections are more likely to be severe for children younger than 5 years, older adults and people with weakened immune systems, such as people with cancer, diabetes, and liver or kidney disease.

More tips for backyard flock owners to prevent infection can be found here at https://www.cdc.gov/features/salmonellapoultry/index.html.

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