Health officials across the country have linked Salmonella outbreaks spanning 47 states to live poultry and the growing popularity of keeping backyard flocks.
A series of multistate outbreaks of Salmonella infections across the United States being investigated by state and federal health officials, who have linked the illnesses to contact with live poultry and backyard flocks.
Salmonella bacteria carried by birds can cause enteric zoonotic disease in humans through direct or indirect contact with the droppings, feathers, feet, or beaks of an infected bird. The resulting gastrointestinal illness affects the stomach and intestines, causing symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 1 million food-borne Salmonella infections in the United States each year, leading to 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths. However, a growing number of such illnesses are now related to contact with live poultry.
The CDC, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, along with many state departments of health and agriculture have issued an alert announcing an investigation into Salmonella outbreaks spanning 47 states that has been linked to contact with live chicks and ducklings. The current outbreaks come following a record number of similar outbreaks that had occurred in 2016 that had been associated with live poultry, outbreaks that resulted in 895 confirmed infections, 209 hospitalizations, and 3 deaths in 48 states. Health officials linked last year’s outbreaks to at least 8 Salmonella strains including S. Enteritidis, S. Muenster, S. Infantis, and S. Braenderup. Of the 745 individuals interviewed in the investigation of the 2016 outbreak, 522 (74%) reported having contact with live poultry in the week before falling ill with infection.
Thus far, 372 individuals from 47 states have been infected by the current outbreak strains of Salmonella, with illnesses starting on dates ranging from January 4, 2017 up until May 13, 2017; of those cases, 71 infected individuals have been hospitalized. California, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee have seen the highest number of illnesses among the states affected by the outbreak strains. Of the 228 infected individuals that have been interviewed in the current investigation, 190 (83%) reported having contact with live poultry in the week before illness began. Although food-borne Salmonella infections due to contaminated food or drink cause more illnesses in the United States each year, the CDC notes that outbreaks from live poultry have been on the rise in recent years, particularly in the face of the growing practice of keeping backyard flocks of chickens and ducks.
According to the CDC, young children are more likely to become sick with Salmonella after contact with live poultry, as their immune systems are more susceptible to germs. Children are also more likely to touch their mouths with contaminated hands. Of those individuals infected in the current outbreaks, 36% have been children under the age of 5. Poultry cages, coops, feed and water dishes, hay, plants, and surrounding soil can all be sources of Salmonella contamination, and the bacteria can be spread through the hands, shoes, and clothes of those who have had contact with infected birds.
For those who keep backyard flocks, the CDC recommends handwashing with soap and water after handling live poultry to avoid infection and suggests that children under the age of 5 only touch or handle birds with adult supervision.