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Growth of Backyard Chickens Hatches Salmonella Outbreak

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The popularity of backyard chickens is believed to be a factor in the rise in salmonella cases. (Thunder Circus/flickr)
The popularity of backyard chickens is believed to be a factor in the rise in salmonella cases. (Thunder Circus/flickr)
August 24, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Growing numbers of Tennesseans are raising backyard chickens, both as pets and as a healthy source of food. While there are plenty of benefits to having feathered friends, the Tennessee Department of Health says it's seen more than 40 cases of salmonella this year that it believes are connected to live poultry.

Deputy State Epidemiologist John Dunn says it comes down to hygiene.

"We don't recommend that people snuggle up or kiss live poultry, baby poultry, you know," he says. "And of course hand-washing, hand hygiene is critical - that's a really important step. Supervision of children is also important."

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control reports almost a thousand cases of salmonella so far this year. Tennessee and neighboring states Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia are among those with the highest numbers of cases. Experts also recommend you keep any shoes you wear near live poultry outside the house.

Symptoms of salmonella are similar to cold and flu symptoms. But if you get sick, Dunn says it's important to share information with your doctor about your exposure to live birds.

"If someone does have a diarrheal illness, which is the typical symptom of salmonella, then we would advise them to see their medical provider," he adds. "They can mention to the provider that they had contact with live poultry and that might prompt the provider to think about their diagnosis and treatment a certain way."

Cats and dogs can also get sick with salmonella. Children under age five and adults over 65, and people with compromised immune systems are advised against handling live poultry.

Dunn instructs people to wash any produce that might have come into contact with your chickens, and wash any eggs you collect before consuming them.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN