A salmonella outbreak related to backyard poultry has led U.S. health officials to issue a stern warning: Do not kiss or cuddle your ducks and chickens.
Over the past 43 years, 163 illnesses and 34 hospital admissions have been reported in 43 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. North Carolina had the most frequently reported cases at 13, followed by Iowa at 11. About a third of the cases involved children under the age of 5, the agency said.
The true number of people sick is most likely higher as many recover without medical attention and are not tested for salmonella, according to the CDC.
The likely source of the outbreak is exposure to backyard poultry, the agency said.
“Do not kiss or cuddle the birds as it can spread germs in your mouth and make you sick,” the agency said.
This was among the guidelines the CDC offered to people who keep poultry at home, whether they are seasoned owners or building their first backyard pen. You should always wash their hands for 20 seconds after coming into contact with birds or related materials, the agency said, and don’t allow children under the age of 5 to touch the birds.
Emily Shoop, poultry educator at Penn State Extension, said Monday poultry farming is “the fastest growing animal-related hobby in the US.”
The CDC has routinely issued similar guidelines over the years, she said, adding that this is the time of year when hatcheries and feeders sell chicks to people who start herding at home.
“You bring these chickens home, you cuddle them close to your face or you kiss them, and then we see some bugs and a salmonella outbreak,” said Ms. Shoop. “The best way to prevent this from happening is to wash your hands after touching chickens, their dung, eggs, or meat.”
Animals can ingest salmonella from contaminated food or the bacteria can live naturally in their intestines. According to the CDC website, some may even pick up the bacteria from their mothers before they are born.
Raising backyard poultry has become more common in recent years, and some have described the process of rearing chickens as an exercise of inter-species respect.
Chick sales often go up during times of anxiety or economic stress, such as being at home. B. Stock market slumps and presidential election years. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, a combination of unemployment, anxious leisure time for those not struggling with illness, and financial instability led people to panic buying chickens, much like toilet paper. Many were first-time buyers.
Although their intentions may have been good, there were health consequences. By mid-December 2020, there had been more than 1,700 salmonella infections in all 50 states, the CDC said, noting that exposure to backyard poultry was the likely cause of the outbreaks. More than 300 people have been hospitalized and one death has been reported. The number of diseases reported was higher than any previous backyard-related outbreak.
Ms. Shoop said that there is a risk with all types of livestock. “These are not pets, and a lot of people get them confused,” she said. Poultry, she said, is usually kept outside and outside of the food preparation areas.
“If you cuddle them close to your face or mouth, you should probably wash your face and brush your teeth as well to prevent cross-contamination from these birds,” she said. “Chickens are by no means dirty animals, but of course they have a lot of bacteria around their bodies.”