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Salmonella Outbreak in all 50 States Linked to Backyard Chickens, Ducks

CDC ties flocks to a record-high number of infections and at least one death

woman feeding chickens in backyard

Johner Images/Getty Images

En español | A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation found backyard poultry to be the source of an outbreak of salmonella that has reached every state. As of Dec. 17, when the outbreak investigation ended, there were 1,722 reported cases  – the highest number on record in a year tied to backyard poultry and 376 more since the CDC last reported on the outbreak on Sept. 22. The salmonella infections tied to backyard flocks have been responsible for 333 hospitalizations and one death.

Based on contact tracing interviews, the CDC determined that 66 percent of those infected reported contact with chicks and ducklings purchased from agricultural stores, websites and hatcheries. The onset of illnesses reported occurred between Jan. 14 and Oct. 31.

How to stay safe around backyard flocks

  • Don't kiss or snuggle with birds and then touch your face or mouth.
  • Don't let birds in your home, especially where food is prepared, served or stored.
  • Wear a separate pair of shoes when caring for birds, and store the footwear outside.
  • Don't consume food or drinks where birds live or roam.
  • Clean the equipment or materials used to raise or care for birds, including cages outside.

Source: CDC

Annually in the U.S., salmonella bacteria causes about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths, the CDC estimates. The CDC is currently investigating a separate Salmonella outbreak linked to red onions grown in California.

Advice to backyard flock owners

Backyard chicken ownership has boomed during the pandemic, and rental options have made raising a flock even more accessible than before. Here are some tips from the CDC for handling a flock safely.

Wash your hands. If you have feathered friends in your backyard, the CDC advises you to always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching birds, their eggs or anything else where they roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

Supervise children. Adults should supervise young children when cleaning their hands after touching birds. Children younger than 5 years old shouldn't handle birds since they are more likely to get sick.

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Collect eggs often. Eggs that sit in the nest can become dirty or break. If an egg appears cracked, throw it away because germs can enter through the crack. If a shell appears dirty, clean it with fine sandpaper, a brush or a cloth. Warm eggs should not be washed because cold water can pull germs into the egg. Refrigerate eggs to slow germ growth.

Cook eggs thoroughly. The CDC recommends cooking eggs until the yolk and white are firm with an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F. Raw and undercooked eggs may contain salmonella and make you sick.

Symptoms of a salmonella infection

Salmonella lives in the intestines of animals and can spread by contact with feces or contact with anything contaminated by feces. Most people who get salmonellosis, the intestinal infection caused by the bacteria, experience diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. In severe cases, the infection can spread from the intestines to other parts of the body.

Symptoms usually begin six hours to six days after infection and can last up to seven days. However, in some instances, symptoms appear weeks after infection or symptoms persist for weeks, according to the CDC.

An infection is diagnosed with a lab test that looks for the bacteria in a person's stool, body tissue or fluids. Although most people can recover without antibiotics, an antibiotic is recommended for anyone with a severe illness.

Antibiotics are also recommended for infected adults over 65 (or over 50 if an underlying condition such as heart disease is present), infants and those with weakened immune systems. The CDC warns that some infections related to the backyard poultry outbreak may be difficult to treat with some commonly prescribed antibiotics.

See a doctor for severe salmonella symptoms

  • Diarrhea accompanied by a fever higher than 102 degrees F
  • Diarrhea lasting more than three days without improving
  • Blood in your stool
  • Persistent vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down
  • Dehydration signs such as little urine output, dry mouth and throat, or dizziness when standing up

Source: CDC

Editor’s note: This story, originally published on July 31, 2020, has been updated to reflect the latest data from the CDC’s investigation.

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