A multistate salmonella outbreak connected to backyard chickens is showing no signs of abating, according to an advisory issued Monday by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
The illnesses first were reported in February, according to the CDC. By mid-July, 212 people infected with the outbreak strains of salmonella have been reported from 44 states, including one in Maine. The most cases, 27, have been reported in North Carolina. No deaths have been reported but 34 people have been hospitalized. More than a quarter of infected people are children younger than 5 years old.
“People can get sick with salmonella infections from touching live poultry or their environment,” the advisory stated. “These birds can be carrying salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness.”
So far, six different strains of salmonella bacteria have been identified in this outbreak. Every year, the CDC estimates salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths in the United States. About one million of those illnesses come from food contaminated with salmonella. Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. But some people may suffer such severe diarrhea that they need to be hospitalized.
According to the CDC, epidemiologic and laboratory findings link the current salmonella outbreaks to contact with live poultry, such as chicks and ducklings, which come from multiple hatcheries. More than 70 percent of ill people interviewed reported having contact with chicks or ducklings in the week before their illness started. They told interviewers they obtained the chicks and ducklings from feed supply stores, websites, hatcheries and from relatives.
This spring, Dr. Dora Mills, the former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and a vice president at the University of New England in Biddeford, talked about the dangers that chickens can pose to people.
“A lot of people don’t realize these cute little fuzzy animals carry microbes that carry bacteria harmful to us,” she said in March. “Even though the animal is healthy, they are often carriers and don’t get sick.”
The CDC shared some tips about avoiding disease while caring for a backyard flock.
—Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in their environment.
—Don’t let children younger than 5 years handle or touch live poultry without adult supervision.
—Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of your birds and keep the shoes outside of your home.
“It’s important to keep in mind all poultry have these microbes and carry these germs as part of the normal flora in their systems,” Mills said. “So always remember to wash your hands after hugging a chicken.”
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