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Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Backyard Chickens, Ducks Spreads

Cases in 46 states follow nationwide wave of infections in 2020

backyard chickens eating out of a cup, a group of people stand behind them

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For the second year in a row, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation has linked an outbreak of salmonella to backyard poultry. Since the outbreak was first announced in late May, 311 additional infections have been reported, bringing the total to 474 illnesses across 46 states. Some 103 people have been hospitalized, and one person has died.

Infections began between Dec. 15 and June 4. Those infected ranged from less than a year old to 97 years old, with a median age of 31. Children younger than 5, however, accounted for almost a third of all illnesses.

How to Stay Safe Around Backyard Flocks

  • Don't kiss birds or snuggle with them 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

State and local public health officials interviewed infected people about the animals they had come in contact with. Seventy-seven percent reported contact with backyard poultry, such as chickens or ducks, before getting sick.

The states with no reported cases of the outbreak strain are Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii and New Mexico.

The CDC believes the true number of infections is likely higher than the total reported because people are not regularly tested for salmonella and many who are infected recover without medical care. And recent illnesses may not be included in the totals because it takes up to four weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.

Last year, the CDC recorded a record number of illnesses linked to backyard flocks in all 50 states. In the 2020 outbreak, 1,722 people were infected, resulting in 333 hospitalizations and one death. Almost a quarter of those infected were under 5 years old. Illnesses started on dates ranging from Jan. 14 to Oct. 31, 2020.

Advice to backyard flock owners

Backyard chicken ownership 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 birds safely.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

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

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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. A sperate outbreak of the bacteria tied to wild songbirds was announced in April and spread to humans through backyard bird feeders.

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 to other parts of the body.

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

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, they are 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.

Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency's Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.

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