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Salmonella illnesses tied to backyard poultry flocks surpass 1,000 cases in 49 states

Backyard chickens hatch salmonella outbreak
Major source of salmonella outbreaks? Backyard chickens 01:44
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded another 235 salmonella illnesses in August, bringing to 1,003 the count of those sickened by salmonella related to home-raised chickens, hens, ducks and turkeys so far in 2019.
  • The outbreak that has sickened people in 49 states, killed two and sent 175 to the hospital.
  • For every case reported, another 29 are not, the CDC calculates, suggesting more than 29,000 people have been sickened so far this year by their backyard birds.

Already the biggest cause of salmonella infections in the U.S., bacteria linked to backyard poultry flocks has now stricken more than 1,000 Americans this year, killing two and sending another 175 to the hospital. The growing trend of raising chickens and other poultry for eggs and companionship is linked to an outbreak that has sickened people in 49 states, according to federal health officials.

The CDC said Friday it had recorded another 235 illnesses in August, bringing to 1,003 the count of those sickened by salmonella related to home-raised chickens, hens, ducks and turkeys. That puts the country on track to exceed all of 2017's toll — the largest recorded by the CDC — when 1,120 people got sick and one person died from contact with backyard poultry.

"The ongoing multistate outbreak of salmonella linked to backyard poultry is the largest we've seen this year to date," a spokesperson for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CBS MoneyWatch in July. 

The salmonella tallies vastly underestimate actual illnesses, given for every case reported, another 29 are not, a CDC calculation that would put this year's illness count from salmonella attributable to backyard flocks at more than 29,000 people, with four months remaining in the year.

Especially troubling is nearly a quarter, or 24%, of the illnesses this year involve kids. "Young kids are more likely to kiss, cuddle or snuggle with poultry and then may not wash their hands as thoroughly," Dr. Megin Nichols, an epidemiologist in the CDC's outbreak response and prevention branch, said in a July 30 phone interview.

Silicon Valley chickens part of growing backyard coop trend 04:28

About 10 million U.S. homes have backyard poultry

The trouble stems in large part from a lack of public education about an increasingly popular activity. Roughly 10 million, or 8%, of U.S. households had chickens in 2018, with ownership higher among households with young children, according the American Pet Producers Association, an industry trade group.

Those with or considering backyard poultry would be wise to check out the CDC's guidelines. They include advising against eating or drinking while near an outside flock, and always washing hands with soap and running water after touching birds. Those with young children should be especially mindful, as kids want to touch birds with hands that often then get put in their mouths.

Many of those interviewed in outbreaks are first-time poultry owners unaware the animals can carry germs, according to the CDC's Nichols. There's also a mistaken notion that if an animal is healthy, it can't carry salmonella, when in reality chickens can carry salmonella in their gut without it harming them, she said.

Another notion that the CDC would like to dispel is the idea that all chickens have salmonella, a falsehood that prompts people to feed the animals antibiotics, which then can cause resistant and more virulent strains of salmonella bacteria.

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