Public health officials say that as more people keep backyard flocks of chickens, they are seeing more outbreaks of Salmonella bacteria infections linked to the feathery pets.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says between January and May, 372 people in 47 states became ill from infection, with several Salmonella strains that have been linked to contact with live poultry.
In California, 21 people in 15 counties, including in the central San Joaquin Valley, have become ill. The California Department of Public Health would not list the individual counties, citing privacy issues.
Nationwide, 71 people have been hospitalized, but there have been no deaths reported.
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Having chickens in a backyard is becoming more popular, and in 2016 a record of Salmonella outbreaks was reported in the United States.
In California, 21 people have become ill from 15 counties.
Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Symptoms usually begin 12 to 72 hours after infection, health officials say. Most people recover within a week, but children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at highest risk for more serious health problems. Nationwide, 36 percent of the people infected in the outbreaks this year have been children younger than 5 years old.
Health officials with the California Department of Public Health said live poultry, especially baby chicks and ducklings, may have Salmonella in their feces and on their feathers, feet and beaks – even when they appear healthy and clean. The contamination can get on hands, shoes and clothing. Salmonella also can be on cages, coops, feed and water dishes, bedding, plants, and soil.
People who have backyard flocks should wash hands with soap and water after handling the poultry and eggs. And health officials say wash your hands if you’re around where the birds roost or roam. Don’t let chickens, ducks and geese into the house. Supervise young children who touch the backyard poultry and eggs and make sure they wash their hands.
And even though a chick is cute, don’t snuggle or kiss the birds; and don’t touch your mouth or eat or drink while you’re around them.
For more information about backyard poultry safety, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage.