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Keeping Backyard Chickens and Other Poultry

ALERT: Multistate Outbreaks of Human Salmonella Infections linked to Live Poultry

CDC and many states are investigating several outbreaks of human Salmonella infections linked to live poultry in backyard flocks. These outbreaks are a reminder to always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry.

Backyard chickens and other poultry can 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!

Two young girls feeding chickens in the backyard

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.

There Are Many Ways You Can Get Salmonella 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.

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.

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.

Infographic: Don't play chicken with your health. Wash your hands.

Don’t play chicken with your health. Since 2000, 70 Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to live poultry – 4,794 illnesses, 894 hospitalizations and 7 deaths. Don’t Play Chicken with Your Health [887 KB] | En Español [886 KB]

Wash Your Hands and Take Other Steps to Reduce Yours Chances of Getting Salmonella

  • 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.
  • Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry and keep those shoes outside of the house.
  • 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.
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Don’t kiss your birds or snuggle them and then touch your face or 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 live poultry 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.
Basket of eggs

Chickens and other poultry may carry bacteria such as Salmonella that can get inside of eggs before the shells are formed. Eggs can also become contaminated from poultry droppings.

Safe Handling Tips for Eggs from Backyard Poultry

Egg shells may become contaminated with Salmonella through the laying process, once the eggs are laid, through poultry feed or bedding. To keep your family healthy, follow the tips below when collecting and handling eggs from a backyard flock:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling eggs, chickens, or anything in their environment.
  • Maintain a clean coop. Cleaning the coop, floor, nests and perches on a regular basis will help to keep eggs clean.
  • Collect eggs often. Eggs that spend a significant amount of time in the nest can become dirty or break. Cracked eggs should be thrown away.
  • Eggs with dirt and debris can be cleaned with fine sandpaper, a brush or cloth. Don’t wash eggs, because colder water can pull bacteria into the egg.
  • Refrigerate eggs after collection.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly. Raw and undercooked eggs contain Salmonella bacteria that can make you sick.
  • Know the local regulations around sale of eggs. If you sell eggs, it is important to follow local licensing requirements.

Learn more about Salmonella and Eggs.

Avian Flu

Young chicken being tested for avian flu

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.

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.

Rules About Owning Live Poultry Depend on Where You Live

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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