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Keeping Backyard Poultry

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

Owning backyard chickens and other poultry can be a great experience. However, children and other groups of people have a greater chance of illness from handling live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Even handling baby birds displayed at stores can cause a Salmonella infection. Keep reading to learn about the steps you can take to stay healthy around live poultry.

How do people get Salmonella infections from live poultry?

Live poultry might have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks), even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can get on cages, coops, feed and water dishes, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Germs also can get on the hands, shoes, and clothes of people who handle or care for the birds.

Live poultry also can carry avian influenza (flu) viruses. Avian flu very rarely makes people sick. Learn more about avian flu and steps you can take to protect yourself.

Animals and Health

Check out two CDC websites with helpful resources.

Zoonotic Diseases (Diseases from Animals): Information about outbreaks from animals, prevention messages, and helpful resources.

Healthy Pets Healthy People: Information on the health benefits of pets and disease risks.

People become infected with Salmonella germs when they put their hands or equipment that has been in contact with live poultry in or around their mouth. Young children are more likely to get sick because their immune systems are still developing and they are more likely to put their fingers or pacifiers and other items into their mouths. Some people who have contact with items, like coops or water dishes, in the area where poultry live can get sick without actually touching one of the birds. Germs on your hands can spread easily to other people or surfaces, which is why it's important to wash hands immediately with soap and water after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.

How do I reduce the chance of Salmonella infection?

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you collect eggs from the hens, thoroughly cook the eggs.
  • Don't eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Avoid kissing your birds or snuggling them, then touching your 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) U.S. voluntary Salmonella Monitoring Program [279 KB]. 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.

What are the signs and symptoms of Salmonella infection?

Salmonella germs 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 younger than 5 years, adults older than 65, and people with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women, are more likely to have a serious illness from Salmonella.

CDC's Salmonella website has more information about Salmonella infections. If you suspect you or your child has a Salmonella infection, please contact your healthcare provider immediately.

What are the rules for owning live poultry?

Rules and regulations vary by city, county, and state, so check with your local government to know the rules for where you live.

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