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Keeping Backyard Poultry

Chickens in grassLive poultry, such as chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys, often carry harmful germs called Salmonella. After you touch a bird, or anything in the area where they live and roam, wash your hands so you don't get sick!

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, 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.

What is the risk of getting Salmonella from live poultry?

It's common for chickens, ducks, and other poultry to carry Salmonella. Salmonella is a type of germ that naturally lives in the intestines of poultry and many other animals. 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.

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 get more information by talking to your health care provider or your animal's veterinarian.

Gastrointestinal (Enteric) Diseases from Animals

Check out CDC's Gastrointestinal (Enteric) Diseases from Animals website, your one-stop-shop for information about zoonotic outbreaks, prevention messages, and helpful resources.

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, feed and water dishes, 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 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.

Graphic: Handwashing helps! Learn how to protect from yourself from germs.

How do I reduce the risk of a Salmonella infection from live poultry?

  • DO
    • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. 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.
    • 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.
    • Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.
    • If you have free-roaming live poultry, assume where they live and roam is contaminated
  •  Graphic: Yours. Theirs. Keep it that way. Find out why poultry belongs outside.
  • DON’T
    • Don’t let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems 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 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.
    • In recent outbreaks of Salmonella infections linked to contact with live poultry, ill people reported bringing live poultry into their homes.

What are the signs, symptoms, and types of treatment available for Salmonella infections?

Salmonella can make people sick with

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps

Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Children under the age of 5 years, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women, are more likely to have a serious illness. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

You can learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatment of Salmonella infection by visiting the CDC’s Salmonella website. If you suspect you or your child has Salmonella infection, please contact your health care provider immediately.

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.

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