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Backyard Poultry Contributing to the Increasing US Salmonella Infections

Backyard Poultry Contributing to the Increasing US Salmonella Infections

By: Kendra Waldenberger, UMN Extension Ag Intern

During 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a substantial increase of individuals in the United States and other countries planting gardens and raising livestock on a small-scale level in preparation for potential food shortages. Backyard poultry has seen an increase in popularity because many city ordinances allow residents to raise chickens making them a great source for families' eggs and meat needs.

Starting a micro flock of chickens gave many people who were at home for an extended time a sense of responsibility and a chance to be self-sufficient with part of their food supply. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have linked the increasing Salmonella infections in the US with backyard poultry. The rise is most likely due to the new poultry raisers lack of knowledge when it comes to safe animal and food handling procedures.

As of May 20th, the CDC has reported 163 illnesses and 34 hospitalizations from Salmonella infections in 43 states. About one-third of the reported cases were children five years and younger. After interviewing the sick patients, a common factor was exposure to backyard poultry. The number of infections is likely much higher than the reported cases because many people choose not to see a doctor and to not get tested for Salmonella. Understanding and knowing where backyard poultry get infected and how to limit the spread from birds to humans will stop the rise in Salmonella cases.

There are many ways chickens can contract Salmonella. Awareness of the sources can help poultry owners keep their birds safe. The most common way chickens contract Salmonella is orally through infected feed, like oilseed meals and fish meals. Having the proper storage conditions for poultry feed is important because an environment that is humid and dusty with pests will promote contamination and Salmonella growth.

Once a bird is infected it can spread Salmonella to one another by vertical or horizontal transmission. Vertical transmission occurs when an infected chicken passes the bacteria to her eggs. Horizontal transmission happens when an infected chicken comes into contact with a healthy bird. Detecting if a bird is carrying Salmonella can be very difficult because many display no symptoms and look healthy. Be sure to clean and sterilize all equipment used to hatch, raise, house, feed, and water your chickens to limit the spread.

Protecting ourselves from being infected is just as important as shielding our poultry from Salmonella. When around poultry, never eat or drink, don’t hug or kiss birds, and always supervise young kids because they are highly susceptible to getting sick. When collecting eggs, make sure to get them often and wipe them off with a cloth or a brush before rinsing them with water. Washing them when they are dirty can put the germs into the egg. 

After working with poultry, always remember to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Always store eggs in the refrigerator, cook eggs to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and cook chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill all the germs and potential Salmonella bacteria. All of these safety precautions will decrease your chances of a Salmonella infection. 

As caretakers and consumers of poultry meat and other products, we need to do our best to protect the birds and ourselves from getting Salmonella infections. If you think that a bird may be infected, call the veterinarian and get them tested. Call your healthcare provider if you are experiencing severe Salmonella infection symptoms. Individuals under the age of 5, over the age of 65, or with a compromised immune system are at risk for developing more severe cases. Follow these tips to protect yourself, family, friends, and your backyard poultry.


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