Another year, another Salmonella outbreak linked to backyard poultry flocks

Twenty-one people have been hospitalized with Salmonella contracted through contact with backyard poultry flocks since February 2018, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released today.

States reporting Salmonella illnesses linked to backyard poultry.

As of June 1st, 124 illnesses have been reported from 36 states. Nearly one-third of the outbreak victims are children of 5 years of age or younger.

The Salmonella outbreak has been linked to contact with live poultry – mainly chicks and duckings – in backyard flocks. The birds were obtained from multiple sources.

Several types of Salmonella have been found in outbreak victims, including:  Salmonella Seftenberg, Salmonella Montevideo, Salmonella Infantis, Salmonella Enteritidis, Salmonella Indiana, and Salmonella Litchfield.

Since 2000, contact with backyard poultry has been responsible for 4,794 documented Salmonella illnesses in 70 separate outbreaks. Seven people died in these outbreaks, and 894 required hospitalization. Ten outbreaks occurred in 2017 alone, sickening more than 1100 individuals in 48 states, killing one, and sending 249 of them to hospital.

Keeping backyard flocks has become increasing popular in recent years, with more and more cities amending their by-laws to permit residents to do so. According to a 2017 article in the Los Angeles Times, more than 1% of US households now keep chickens.

All too often, apparently healthy baby chicks and ducklings carry Salmonella. Children are especially drawn to these animals, which are small enough for tiny hands to hold. Unfortunately, a toddler or young child is all too likely to neglect to wash his or her hands after cuddling a feathered pet, and is especially susceptible to becoming infected with Salmonella as a result.

CDC offers the following advice for staying healthy while enjoying the benefits of a backyard flock:

Tips for staying healthy
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.
    • Adults should supervise handwashing by young children.
    • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Don’t let live poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored.
  • Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry and keep those shoes outside of the house.
  • Don’t let children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65, or people with weakened immune systems from conditions such as cancer treatment, HIV/AIDS or organ transplants, handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Don’t kiss your birds or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for live poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers.
  • Buy birds from hatcheries that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan (USDA-NPIP). This program is intended to reduce the incidence of Salmonella in baby poultry in the hatchery, which helps prevent the spread of illness among poultry and people.



Double Dip Ducklings – And Chicks

The Salmonella outbreak tied to chicks and ducklings supplied by Mt. Healthy Hatcheries, Inc. and sold through a national (and still unnamed) feed store chain has turned out to be two…two…two outbreaks in one.

CDC reported earlier today that, since February 25, 2011, the infected chicks and ducklings have been responsible for 49 cases of Salmonella Altona infections in 16 states. And a second Salmonella serotype is now in the mix. Chicks and ducklings from the same hatchery also have infected 22 people in 12 states with Salmonella Johannesburg since March 19, 2011.

The geographic distribution of illnesses associated with the two Salmonella serotypes overlap, as this CDC summary table and map clearly show. The green-colored states have reported cases of both Salmonella Altona and Salmonella Johannesburg infections.

In all, 71 people – more than one-half of them 5 years old or less – in 19 states have become ill as a result of handling these infected chicks and ducklings. Eighteen people were hospitalized. All of the illnesses so far have been reported from the eastern half of the country, including the states of Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), Georgia (3), Indiana (1), Kentucky (7), Maryland (4) , Maine (1), Michigan (1), Minnesota (1), North Carolina (11), New Hampshire (1), New York (5), Ohio (12), Pennsylvania (6), Tennessee (5), Virginia (4), Vermont (3), Wisconsin (1) and West Virginia (3).

And what does the Mt. Healthy Hatcheries have to say about their role in this outbreak? NOTHING! The company simply has posted a list of Basic Safety Practices for the Handling of Poultry on its web site. No mention whatsoever of an on-going Salmonella outbreak, or of the link to Mt. Healthy Hatcheries chicks and ducklings.

As I pointed out in The Chicken Ranch (my earlier post on this outbreak), apparently healthy chickens and other poultry can harbor and spread Salmonella, Campylobacter and other diseases. Chicks, ducklings or any other fowl are not toys.

And they most certainly are not safe pets for young children! 

The Chicken Ranch

Earlier this spring, my husband, our Labradoodle and I moved into our new home in an urban area of coastal San Diego.

This neighborhood has it all – the beach, a vibrant downtown, lots of restaurants, shops and people. And chickens.

Yes, chickens are permitted under the San Diego Municipal Code, as long as they are kept 50 feet from any residence. But our next door neighbor’s chicken coop was less than half that distance from their house and within 50 feet of our house. Their half-dozen well fed hens free-ranged in the back yard, on their entry deck and into their kitchen.

Now, I have no problem with the excited sound that a hen emits when she successfully produces an egg. It is, after all, the highlight of her day. On the other hand, I have a huge problem with the flies, vermin and rodents that free range chickens attract to their immediate area. Inevitably, these “groupies” spill over into adjacent areas – including ours.

We explained to the neighbors that the chickens didn’t bother us, but that the spillover of the birds’ noisome groupies onto our property was unacceptable. We asked them to keep their yard and hen house scrupulously clean to minimize the hangers-on. When nothing happened, we complained to the City. The chickens are now gone, as is the coop.

The birds have moved a city block away, to the backyard of another household, where they are picked up and cuddled by the family’s children and their friends under the watchful eyes of an adult.

Clearly, some people either haven’t heard – or refuse to believe – that apparently healthy chickens and other poultry can harbor and spread Salmonella, Campylobacter and other diseases.

Families in 15 US states ignored the risk when they purchased chicks or ducklings as family pets this year.

CDC is tracking an outbreak of Salmonella Altona that has sickened 39 people since February 25th. Nearly half (44%) of the illnesses are in children under the age of five. More than one-quarter (28%) of the victims have been hospitalized.

Illnesses associated with the outbreak have been reported in Georgia (1), Indiana (1), Kentucky (4), Michigan (1), Maryland (3), Minnesota (1), North Carolina (6), New York (2), Ohio (8), Pennsylvania (4), Tennessee (2), Virginia (3), Vermont (1), Wisconsin (1), and West Virginia (1).

Patient interviews pointed toward contact with chicks and ducklings as a common element. Lab analyses yielded Salmonella Altona from three samples from a chick and its environment collected from an ill person’s household in Ohio, and three environmental samples collected from chick and duckling displays at two locations of a national feed store chain in North Carolina.

According to the Ohio Departments of Health and Agriculture, the chicks and ducklings were supplied by an Ohio company – Mt. Healthy Hatcheries, Inc.

CDC offers the following advice to people who want the experience of keeping poultry:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until you are able to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.
  • Do not let children younger than 5 years of age, elderly persons, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
  • 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.
  • Do not snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry.