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Chickens in Backyard? Wash Hands, Health Experts Say

People should change their clothes in shoes after cleaning chicken coops, health experts say. (Steven-L-Johnson/Flickr)
People should change their clothes in shoes after cleaning chicken coops, health experts say. (Steven-L-Johnson/Flickr)
August 28, 2017

PIERE, S.D. -- Nearly 1,000 people across the country have become ill this year from salmonella connected to backyard flocks of chickens, ducks and geese.

The Centers for Disease Control is investigating ten separate salmonella outbreaks that have affected people in 48 states - including six cases connected to poultry in South Dakota this year. CDC Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Megin Nichols said the agency isn't discouraging backyard agriculture or the benefits of learning to interact with animals, but preventing salmonella is a critical precaution.

"And there's some simple things you can do to prevent it, which are really important," Nichols said. "So, whether you have poultry for food, eggs or as a pet, you have to be sure to wash your hands."

Other tips for those raising chickens, ducks or geese include making sure you change your shoes and clothes after cleaning coops - and for those who keep them as pets, Nichols said birds shouldn't come in contact with people's faces.

As the trend toward organic food grows, Nichols said many people buy their own chickens because they believe they're less likely to have salmonella and other germs. But she noted many of the birds for sale at the local feed store actually come from factory farms.

"Just like the poultry in the grocery store, all live poultry can carry salmonella," she said. "It's in their guts and it doesn't cause the birds to become sick. You can't tell that a bird is carrying salmonella or other germs just by looking at it."

Signs of a salmonella infection in humans include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Many who contract salmonella just feel a little sick, but it can be a deadly illness for small children, older people and those with weakened immune systems.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - SD