Some 43 people in Pennsylvania were infected with salmonella in 2016 from contact with poultry in backyard flocks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As the popularity of raising small flocks of chickens at people’s homes has risen in Lancaster County and nationwide, so have cases of infection from salmonella bacteria.
The CDC reported eight multistate outbreaks affecting 895 people in 48 states in 2016, including 209 hospitalizations and one death in Mississippi. More than one-third of those hospitalized were children under 5, and all those outbreaks are over.
In 2015, the CDC reported poultry-related salmonella affecting 252 people in 43 states (including 13 people in Pennsylvania), with 63 hospitalizations and no deaths.
Interviews with the 2016 victims, medical records and laboratory findings linked the outbreaks to contact with live poultry — such as adult and juvenile chickens and ducklings — from multiple hatcheries.
“Contact with live poultry in the week before becoming ill was reported by 552 of 745 ill people interviewed, or 74 percent,” the CDC said.
“Ill people reported purchasing live baby poultry from several suppliers, including feed supply stores, internet sites, hatcheries and friends in multiple states.
“Ill people reported purchasing live poultry to produce eggs, learn about agriculture, have as a hobby, enjoy for fun, keep as pets, or to give as Easter gifts.
“Some of the places ill people reported contact with live poultry included their home, someone else’s home, work or school settings.”
Penn State weighs in
Pennsylvania’s total of 43 infected infected was the fourth highest among the 48 states.
The rise in salmonella cases linked to backyard poultry prompted the Penn State Animal Diagnostic Lab to examine eggs from backyard birds. A small percentage of eggs turned up positive for salmonella.
“People are under the mistaken idea that backyard birds and their eggs are free from salmonella. In fact, any poultry can be carriers of salmonella, and they usually have no outward symptoms of disease,” said Eva Wallner-Pendleton, poultry veterinarian at the Animal Diagnostic Lab.
“More and more people are raising backyard chickens, and they need need to understand proper techniques for handling birds and equipment,” said Phillip Clauer, senior instructor and Penn State Extension specialist.
Eggs, also, can make people sick, Wallner-Pendleton stressed. “Certain salmonella, such as salmonella enteritidis, can be shed directly onto eggs, and unless eggs are thoroughly cooked, they can potentially make people sick.”
In humans, infection with salmonella may cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Most people recover with treatment.