Keeping Backyard Poultry
An increasing number of people around the country are choosing to keep live poultry, such as chickens or ducks, as part of a greener, healthier lifestyle. While you enjoy the benefits of backyard chickens and other poultry, but it is important to consider the risk of illness, especially for children, which can result from handling live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.
It's common for chickens, ducks, and other poultry to carry Salmonella, which is a type of germ that naturally lives in the intestines of poultry and many other animals and is shed in their droppings or feces. Even organically fed poultry can have Salmonella. While it usually doesn't make the birds sick, Salmonella can cause serious illness when it is passed to people.
Salmonella can make people sick with diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and/or abdominal cramps. Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Infants, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream, and then to other body sites and can cause serious illness and even death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
Check out the questions and answers below for more information on Salmonella infection and how to prevent getting germs from live poultry. You may also obtain further information by talking to your health care provider or your animal's veterinarian.
How do people get Salmonella infections from live poultry?
Live poultry may have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Additionally, the germs can be found on the hands, shoes, and clothing of those who handle the birds or work or play where they live and roam. People become infected with Salmonella when they put their hands or other things that have been in contact with feces in or around their mouth. Young children are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths. It is important to wash your hands immediately after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam, because the germs on your hands can easily spread to other people or things.
What are some ways to reduce the risk of Salmonella infection from live poultry?
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Avoid touching your mouth before washing your hands. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
- Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
- Wash hands after removing soiled clothes and shoes.
- Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry without supervision.
- Do not eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
- If you collect eggs from the hens, thoroughly cook them, as Salmonella can pass from healthy looking hens into the interior of normal looking eggs.
- 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.
- If you have free-roaming live poultry, assume where they live and roam is contaminated.
- Clean equipment and materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers, outside the house, not inside.
What are the signs, symptoms, and types of treatment available for Salmonella infections?
You can learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatment of Salmonella infection by visiting the CDC Salmonella web site. If you suspect you or your child has Salmonella infection, contact your health care provider immediately and mention recent contact with live poultry.
Are there any policies about owning live poultry?
Rules and regulations vary by city, county, and state ordinances, so check with your local government to determine rules and regulations about owning live poultry.
- CDC Medscape Expert Commentary: Pets Can Make People Sick
- Reducing Your Risk of a Salmonella Infection from Contact with Live Baby Poultry [PDF - 795 KB]
In Spanish: Reduzca su riesgo de infección por Salmonella por el contacto con crías de aves de corral [PDF - 726 KB]
- CDC's Healthy Pets Healthy People
- CDC.gov Feature: Risk of Human Salmonella Infections from Live Baby Poultry
- Send a Health-e-Card: Teach Hand Washing
- CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) – recent publications
- Notes from the Field: Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Altona and Johannesburg Infections Linked to Chicks and Ducklings from a Mail-Order Hatchery — United States, February–October 2011
- Multistate Outbreaks of Salmonella Infections Associated with Live Poultry — United States, 2007
- Three Outbreaks of Salmonellosis Associated with Baby Poultry from Three Hatcheries — United States, 2006
- Salmonella Serotype Montevideo Infections Associated with Chicks — Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, Spring 1995 and 1996
- CDC Cup of Health: Cute But Risky
- CDC Kidtastics Podcast: Why Parents Should Think Twice Before Giving Baby Birds to Young Children for Easter
- CDC Kidtastics Podcast: Wash Your Hands
- CDC Radio: Hand Washing PSA
- Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2011
- United States Department of Agriculture's National Poultry Improvement Plan
- United States Department of Agriculture's Biosecurity for Birds
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