Friday, June 10, 2011

Salmonella Outbreak

The CDC is reporting an outbreak of salmonella that has sickened at least 39 people in 12 states.  It appears as though the outbreak can be traced to a single mail order company, but chicks from this company are sold through at least one feed store chain.  They aren't currently identifying the company or the chain, so if you've purchased any chicks this year, please be careful.  Here are some basic safety tips for handling chickens (and any livestock for that matter):
  • Always handle the youngest birds first.  Young birds have an immature immune system and can be sickened by diseases from an older bird.
  • Avoid eating, drinking, smoking, or touching your hands to your face while working with your birds.
  • Never nuzzle or kiss your birds.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water (or use hand sanitizer) immediately after working with birds.
These rules apply whenever you are working with your birds, feeding or watering them, in their enclosure for any reason, working with manure that has not been composted at high temperature, or cleaning equipment used with them.  The CDC also recommends that the very young (under 5 years old) and very elderly do not handle birds at all.  In my experience this isn't a very realistic expectation with  a backyard flock, but these groups are the most likely to get sick, and if they do become ill they are the most likely to experience severe complications, including hospitalization and death.

For the full CDC report:

Please remember that salmonella can be transmitted to the egg, so eggs of infected chickens are likely to be contaminated, and chicks born to an infected chicken can also be carriers.  Chickens can live normal an productive lives while carrying salmonella infections.  Some possible signs of salmonella include:
  • Diarreha, lethargy, and/or going off their feed
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hatching eggs that develop normally for a few days, then suddenly die
  • When dead birds are examined, the liver, spleen, kidney, and heart can appear to have suffered damage
  • Remember, in chickens, it is possible for salmonella to be present with no outward indications
If you suspect salmonella in your flock, tests are available.  I would recommend contacting your local veterinarian for more information.

One parting thought--Remember not to wash your eggs unless they are excessively dirty.  If you do wash them, use them right away.  Eggs have a protective bloom on them that keeps the potential little one inside safe from outside diseases.  Washing removes this bloom and can force bacteria through the porous shell.

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