The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a new warning for a specific group of people: owners of pet chickens.
The CDC is in the midst of an investigation concerning eight separate salmonella outbreaks linked to backyard chickens, which have sickened 611 people in 45 states in the past six months, and is prompting the agency to warn owners of pet chickens to exercise caution when handling and interacting with their feathered friends.
The series of outbreaks began in early January, and unfortunately, it shows no signs of dying out. Since the CDC's initial report on June 2, it has received reports of an additional 287 people becoming sickened, leading officials to warn that there will likely be more cases in the coming months since flock owners may be unaware of the risks of salmonella, as well as the means by which to prevent infection.
"These outbreaks are expected to continue for the next several months since flock owners might be unaware of the risk of Salmonella infection from live poultry or participate in risky behaviors that can result in infection," CDC officials said.
Thus far, those sickened range in age from one to 93 years old, 32 percent of whom are five years of age or younger. Among the 496 people with available information, 28 percent — or 238 — have been hospitalized. There has been one reported fatality, but CDC officials do not believe that the death is connected to an infected chicken.
This isn't purely conjecture, either, as there is solid evidence that points to these backyard chickens as being the culprits. The agency notes that 88 percent of the 493 ill people interviewed about their contact with animals and food consumed in the week before falling ill, revealed they had contact with live poultry during that time period. Furthermore, samples taken from live chickens, as well as places they live, revealed the presence of at least four strains of salmonella.
Unfortunately, part of the difficulty the CDC has had with this case is the variety of means by which the sickened people obtained their pets. Some reported buying their chickens from friends, while others reported buying theirs from feed stores or their internet.
"Regardless of where they were purchased, all live poultry can carry Salmonella bacteria, even if they look healthy and clean," the CDC added. "These outbreaks are a reminder to follow steps to enjoy your backyard flock and keep your family healthy."
In an effort to keep your family healthy, the agency recommends people wash their hands immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they roam, not to let children under the age of five touch poultry without adult supervision, and most importantly, not to let poultry live inside the house.