CDC warns not to kiss, cuddle backyard chickens due to salmonella outbreak

The agency has recorded more than 160 illnesses across 43 states.

A nationwide salmonella outbreak has been linked to backyard chickens, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue a clear directive to affectionate chicken owners:

"Don’t kiss or snuggle backyard poultry."

Close cuddles is one of the ways salmonella germs can spread, the CDC explained in its investigation notice. And of late, they've spread quite a lot, causing dozens of individuals to become sick.

The outbreak has sickened 163 people across 43 states, including Minnesota where there are three reported illnesses. Nobody has died, but the CDC has recorded 34 hospitalizations linked to the outbreak. The agency also noted this is likely an undercount, as many people can recover from a salmonella-related illness without medical care, and therefore were never tested.

Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Rochester all allow people to keep backyard chickens, if they acquire the necessary permit. And it's a trend that has become more popular.

In St. Paul for example, there are a total of 285 active backyard chicken permits, according to a city spokesperson. Minneapolis is at about 358 active coops, a spokesperson said.

Other cities have their own regulations as well - here's a partial list. The Minnesota Backyard Chicken & Poultry Facebook group has more than 12,000 members.

How salmonella spreads

Backyard poultry, including chickens and ducks, can carry salmonella germs even if they look clean, the CDC warns. Those germs get spread around everywhere the birds might go. Humans generally get sick by touching poultry or a germ-lined surface, then putting their hands on their mouth or food, resulting in that persons walling the salmonella germs.

Symptoms of salmonella infection, according to Mayo Clinic, include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Blood in the stool

People usually get sick eight to 72 hours after picking up the germs. While healthy people usually recover quickly, often without treatment or with few symptoms, it can lead to dehydration or, in rare cases, "life-threatening complications" if the infection spreads beyond the intestines. 

While people usually feel sick for two to seven days, Mayo Clinic says "it may take several months before bowels return to normal."

What should chicken owners do?

The CDC has recommendations for poultry owners to avoid getting sick while it investigates the salmonella outbreak. In addition to ceasing all kisses and snuggles:

  • Wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer) immediately after touching the birds, their eggs, anything in areas they go.
  • Do not eat or drink while interacting with the chickens or ducks.
  • Keep an eye on kids who are near backyard poultry - and don't let children under 5 touch the birds.
  • Keep the backyard flock and related supplies outside the house.
  • Collect eggs regularly and often, so they have less opportunity to break or become dirty.
  • Clean the eggs with fine sandpaper, a brush or a cloth - don't use water, as colder water can pull salmonella germs into the egg.

Anyone experiencing serious symptoms - high fever, diarrhea lasting longer than three days or bloody diarrhea, inability to keep liquids down, dehydration - should call their doctor right away.

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