Keeping live chickens is a booming trend, but exercise caution when handling them, especially if you have children.
They may be cute, but backyard chickens run the risk of making you seriously sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that it is tracking a multistate outbreak of salmonella connected to backyard flocks of chickens and ducks, usually baby ones.
So far, 124 people have gotten sick across 36 states, and 31% of the cases have been in children under 5. So far no one has died from the bacteria, which can be dangerous, but 21 people have been hospitalized.
People are buying or getting the salmonella-contaminated chicks and ducklings from feed supply stores, websites, or from relatives who have the birds. Overall, 74% of the 55 people who were asked said they had handled a chick or duckling in the week before they got sick.
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals, and some strains are more dangerous than others. Most human infections are caused by eating contaminated food, such as undercooked or raw poultry or eggs, but it's also possible to get the bacteria through contact with animals, as in this outbreak. Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to pet turtles, guinea pigs, reptiles, and other animals.
You can't tell from looking at the chickens or ducks whether they are infected with salmonella, and you can get sick from touching the birds or anything in their environment. "These birds can be carrying Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness," according to a CDC statement.
This isn't the first salmonella outbreak linked to live poultry — there have been 70 outbreaks since the year 2000. Every year, about 1.2 million people in the US get sick, 23,000 people are hospitalized, and 450 die of salmonella from all sources, with the most common being contaminated food.
The symptoms of salmonella infection include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, fever, chills, and headache. For most people, symptoms will resolve on their own after four to seven days, but for some people, diarrhea can lead to dehydration and hospitalization or more serious infections.
"It’s important to always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in their environment," according to the CDC.
The federal agency also advises people to not let children under 5 interact with birds unsupervised, and to take off any shoes that they've worn while feeding or taking care of chickens before going inside.
Tiny chicks, ducklings, or beloved chickens may be cute pets, but it's best to keep them outside in their own space. "Do not let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios," experts said.