Backyard Chickens Cause Human Health Risks

October 1, 2018 (published)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says owners of backyard chickens and other poultry should be made aware of the risks these animals pose to humans, and take basic steps to prevent disease transmission.  I suspect many of you who live in rural areas, and many in urban settings in which cities allow chickens, have backyard poultry; owners need to understand that these birds can spread Salmonella, Campylobacter and avian influenza to humans.  Numerous human infections of Salmonella have been linked to contact with backyard chickens, and these especially occur in children younger than 5 years of age, pregnant women, and people over 65, as all of these groups may have decreased immunity.  Symptoms of Salmonella and Campylobacter include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps but symptoms may be more severe if the infection enters the blood stream; in those cases, hospitalization may be required. 

Avian influenza viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can easily spread and infect domestic poultry; birds can carry the virus in saliva, mucous and feces.  Avian influenza can also infect humans and symptoms can be mild to severe.  Symptoms in people are typical of other flu viruses and cause fever, cough, sore throat, nasal discharge, muscle and body aches, nausea and vomiting.  Preventing disease transmission from poultry to humans involves thorough hand washing with soap, or hand sanitizer if you are unable to wash.  Poultry should certainly not be allowed to enter homes, and owners should designate a pair of shoes only to be worn in the poultry area and not worn in the house.  Children less than 5 should be kept away from poultry. Food and drink should not be consumed in areas where poultry live.

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