CDC tracking salmonella outbreaks due to 'urban farmers' keeping chickens as pets

The number of people keeping chickens in their backyards or even bringing live poultry inside homes is on the rise, and that has the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concerned about potential salmonella outbreaks.

Although a chicken might not be the first animal that comes to mind when thinking about house pets, the trend is spreading quickly as more cities pass ordinances allowing residents to keep chickens on their property under certain conditions.

People aren't simply letting the chickens roam in the backyard, though. According to the CDC, some people are bringing chickens into their homes, letting them walk on kitchen tables, and even kissing and nuzzling them, Denver news station KMGH reported.

The increasing contact with poultry in urban areas is presenting an ideal opportunity for salmonella to rear its ugly head, said the CDC.

Raising the risk of salmonella contamination

According to the CDC, the organization is currently tracking two large, multi-state outbreaks of salmonella linked to chickens kept in backyards. One of the salmonella strains has already sickened people in 37 states and left one person dead in 2013.

The problem became especially evident in 2012, when the CDC monitored eight salmonella outbreaks linked to backyard poultry flocks. Combined, the outbreaks led to at least 517 illnesses, 93 hospitalizations, and four deaths, KMGH reported.

According to the CDC website, 2012 also marked the largest outbreak of human salmonella infections linked to backyard flocks in a single year.

After observing an alarming increase in the number of salmonella outbreaks, the CDC is attempting to educate the public about how to more safely handle live poultry.

Safety considerations for those who have poultry as pets

The easiest way to prevent exposure to salmonella is to simply keep chickens outside the home, said Candice Burns Hoffman, spokeswoman for the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, in an email to KMGH.

"Just like you wouldn't walk around your house and touch surfaces with raw, uncooked chicken, you also wouldn't allow your live poultry to have contact with surfaces in your home," she said.

The CDC also advises people to clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside to avoid contamination inside the home.

Everyone should also regularly wash their hands when handling poultry - especially those more at risk for contracting a serious illness, including young children, adults older than 65, and people who have weakened immune systems, said Casey Barton Behravesh, MS, DVM, DrPH, DACVPM, deputy branch chief for the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch, and DFWED Coordinator for Enteric Zoonoses and One Health.

“It is important for people to know how to safely enjoy their backyard flocks. People of all ages should wash their hands right after touching baby and adult poultry or anything in the areas where the poultry lives and roams,” Behravesh said.