The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported 611 cases of salmonella infections in people from 45 states, with 32 percent of the cases in children under 5 years of age. The majority of the people infected had contact with live poultry within a week of becoming ill. This should be a warning to backyard poultry owners and young people involved in the exhibition of poultry.
Chicken, ducks, and other poultry carry the salmonella organism. The bacteria does not normally make the birds sick, but when people accidentally ingest the organism, a severe illness may occur. The bacteria is in the droppings of poultry and can be found on the body of the birds. The bacteria contaminates cages, coops, feed and water dishes, and the area where the birds roam. People can be infected when handling poultry, entering poultry areas, handling equipment associated with poultry and gathering eggs.
Children under the age of 5 are more susceptible to infection due to an immature immune system, and they are more prone to put their fingers or other objects in their mouth. People over the age of 65 should be cautious around poultry because of a possible weakened immune system. Also, people with a compromised immune system due to illness, pregnancy or drug therapy should be extremely cautious around poultry.
Salmonella infections in humans are associated with the digestive tract. Typical clinical signs are diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal cramps. If the infection goes from the intestinal tract to the blood, the disease will usually become more severe. Most people with severe infections will require hospitalization.
Backyard poultry owners and young people associated with the exhibition of poultry should practice good hygiene. The following are some suggestions on how to reduce the chance of getting Salmonella:
• Wash hands with soap and water after having any contact with poultry or any area where poultry are located. If soap is not available, use a hand sanitizer.
• Do not allow poultry to enter areas where food and drinks are prepared, served, and stored.
• Do not eat or drink where poultry are located.
• Cook eggs thoroughly.
• Clean equipment associated with poultry outdoors.
Having chickens in the backyard or exhibiting poultry at the county fair can be very rewarding experiences. However, poultry owners should be aware of the potential for a salmonella infection and always practice good hygiene.