with egg prices increasingly, more people can shop for their own backyard chicken flock.
But before you build a cage and register Chicken WhispererHealth experts have a warning: Caring for backyard chickens isn’t as easy as bringing home a cute new kitten, and keeping chickens can pose a number of serious health risks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease Prevention.
You should take extra precautions when handling chickens and their eggs.
“Poultry in particular can have salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies, even when they look healthy and clean,” said Dr. Kathy Benedict, an epidemiologist with CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service.
The bacteria can live in the bird’s beak, feathers or feet, as well as in its digestive tract, and can spread to the surrounding areas where the birds live and on a person’s clothes, hands or shoes. This can make people around them sick.
In the past year alone, there have been several outbreaks of salmonella in many states. Backyard flocks have been linked to at least 1,200 people getting salmonella, Benedict said.
At least 225 people were hospitalized and there were two backyard bird-related deaths only 2022.
“This has been happening for the past several years, at least a thousand cases have been reported every year,” Benedict said. “We expect there are a lot more than that that aren’t necessarily being reported in public health.”
Chickens can also expose people to campylobacter bacteria.
Neither bacteria usually makes the bird sick, but both can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps in humans.
Benedict said people who have weakened immune systems, including people with diseases such as cancer, diabetes, kidney or liver problems, as well as young children, should take extra care around backyard chickens as they may experience more illnesses. severe if infected.
If you decide to get your own chickens, the CDC cautions parents to keep their children under 5 away from the animals. With older children, parents should supervise their interaction. Chickens may be cute, but young children in particular are more likely to get salmonella because their immune systems are still developing.
“Don’t kiss or pet the backyard birds, don’t eat or drink around them,” Benedict advised.
Backyard birds and their equipment should stay in the yard and out of the house to keep bacteria confined to where the birds live.
People may also want to wear “cage shoes” – shoes that you use exclusively when interacting with the chickens. Be sure to remove them before returning home so you don’t track bacteria inside.
Always wash your hands after touching the chickens or keep hand sanitizer outside where you can sanitize your hands before going inside.
In terms of handling chicken eggs, people should collect them immediately and not let them sit in the nest, as they can become dirty or break. Cracked eggs should be thrown away, as a crack can make it easy for bacteria to get inside.
After the eggs are collected, if there is dirt, you should use a fine sandpaper, brush or cloth to wipe away the dirt. Do not wash the eggs with water because colder water can attract germs to the eggs.
The CDC recommends that people refrigerate their eggs to keep them fresh. Cooler temperatures also slow down the growth of microbes.
When cooking eggs, make sure the yolk and white are firm to again reduce exposure to bacteria.
“At CDC, we want to protect people’s health, but we also understand that people have these close relationships with their chickens. We love this animal-human connection,” Benedict said. “There’s only one safe way to do it.”