Salmonella Outbreak in 20 States Linked to Backyard Chicken Farms

The growing practice of raising chicks and ducklings in so-called “backyard” farms may be spreading the dangerous Salmonella pathogen in unexpected ways.

USA Today wrote that two separate Salmonella outbreaks, involving two different strains of the bacteria, have been recently linked to chicks and ducklings purchased for backyard farms. The birds sickened 92 people in 20 states as of yesterday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The chickens and ducklings originated at a mail order hatchery located in Ohio. The two strains—Salmonella altona and Salmonella Johannesburg—sickened 65 people (Salmonella altona) and 27 people (Salmonella Johannesburg), said USA Today.

Raising backyard chickens, typically for their eggs, is a growing movement among people hoping to be in closer contact with their food; however, said CDC physicians, people may be unaware of the prevalence of Salmonella in poultry, which can appear healthy, but can still carry and transmit food borne pathogenic diseases, such as Salmonella.

This particular outbreak, which began in February, continues, according to Casey Barton Behravesh, a veterinary epidemiologist with the CDC. The most recent reported illness took place on July 30, said USA Today.

This specific outbreak is of particular concern because about 30 percent of its victims have been young children under the age of 5.

Mount Healthy Hatcheries of Mount Healthy, Ohio—the hatchery involved in this multi-state outbreak that involves two different Salmonella strains—just hired a Salmonella expert, said USA Today. The hatchery’s testing revealed no illness in its breeder flocks, according to Mount Healthy Hatcheries’ owner, Robert O’Hara, said USA Today.

O’Hara believes that the Salmonella might be from a supplier used by the hatchery; however, has not been able to achieve traceback confirmation of the pathogen, explained USA Today.

O’Hara said that Salmonella is common. “That’s been going on since the beginning of time.” The number of people raising chicks and ducklings is what has changed. “There’s been a giant explosion of backyard flocks and unfortunately some people are raising them in their house for a certain period of time. You just can’t do that. They’re farm animals; they’re not pets. Treat them as such,” said O’Hara, USA Today reported.

O’Hara noted that children are likely seeing and touching chicks at feed stores geared to urban chicken owners. The customers and their children might not be washing their hands after touching the baby birds, O’Hara pointed out, said USA Today. Behravesh agreed, saying washing one’s hands after touching live poultry is the best way in which to minimize risks for illness, explained USA Today.

While generally associated with human and pet food poisoning, a growing percentage of Salmonella-related poisonings initiate with live animals, such as pet chicks and ducklings and pet reptiles. Animals can carry a variety of Salmonella strains without exhibiting symptoms, typically releasing the germ in their feces.

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