WASHINGTON (CNN) – "Always wash your hands after handling live poultry." That's the reminder from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week due to another outbreak of salmonella from backyard chickens. The agency said that 212 people have gotten sick since February due to poultry.
The illnesses have been reported in 44 states. This is the 10th time since 2011 that the CDC has announced a salmonella outbreak due to live poultry. According to the agency, 70 salmonella outbreaks linked to live poultry have been declared since 2000.
"A lot of people perceive a bird with salmonella will look sick, but that is really not the case," explained CDC veterinarian Dr. Megin Nichols after an outbreak last year. The birds can carry the bacteria either on their feathers, on their feet and in their droppings.
Symptoms of salmonella usually begin 12 to 72 hours after a person is infected, and include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramping. This can last for about four to seven days, and most individuals recover without treatment. However, those who develop severe diarrhea may need to be hospitalized.
The CDC said that 34 people have been hospitalized as part of this latest salmonella outbreak. Those who are very young, very old, or who have compromised immune systems are most at risk for developing complications and severe cases of the illness.
The trendiness of backyard chickens has probably contributed to the rise in these illnesses, Nichols added, as more people want to know where their food comes from and are providing it for themselves. But before committing to keeping chickens, Nichols suggested that people read up on how to care for the animals.
The CDC offers advice to help chicken owners master a few best practices, as does the U.S. Department of Agriculture on its Biosecurity for Birds page. But the basics start with always washing hands with soap and water after touching the birds or anything in their environment.
Chicken care equipment, including food and water bowls, can be contaminated with the bacteria as well. To avoid tracking the bacteria elsewhere, use a separate pair of shoes for taking care of the birds, and don't wear them inside of your home. And, of course, keep the chickens outside, so that they do not track bacteria into your home.
Children younger than 5 years old should be supervised whenever they are handling these animals, as they are particularly susceptible to the infection because they often put their hands in their mouths. Be sure to teach them how to handle the animals properly.
If you collect your chicken's eggs, wash them well before use and cook them thoroughly before eating.
Those who have gotten sick in this latest outbreak told federal health investigators that their chickens came from multiple sources, including feed supply stores, websites, hatcheries and from other people. The CDC is reminding feed stores and mail-order hatcheries that sell the animals to take steps to prevent salmonella in flocks.
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