CDC urges people to stop snuggling chickens as pets cause rise in Salmonella infections

‘If you are going snuggle them close to your face or mouth, you probably ought to wash your face and brush your teeth,’ poultry educator says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Monday 24 May 2021 20:03

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The CDC is telling people to not kiss or snuggle chickens after a Salmonella outbreak was linked to people keeping the animals as pets and being too affectionate.

“Don’t kiss or snuggle the birds, as this can spread germs to your mouth and make you sick,” the agency said.

The CDC reported 163 illnesses and 34 hospitalisations spread out across 43 states.

North Carolina reported the most cases, with 13. Iowa had the second-highest, with 11 cases. The CDC said children under the age of five represented a third of all cases.

But the actual number of affected people is probably much higher as people get sick and recover without seeking medical attention, the agency said. They added that the probable source is contact with chickens kept in people’s backyards.

Emily Shoop, a poultry educator at Penn State Extension, told The New York Times that having live poultry at home was “the fastest-growing animal-related hobby in the United States”.

CDC guidelines say you should wash your hands for 20 seconds after being in contact with birds or supplies used for their care. The agency said children under the age of five shouldn’t be allowed to touch the birds.

Ms Shoop said the CDC has regularly issued this kind of guidance over the years and that this is the time of year when chickens are sold to those starting up flocks at home.

“They get those chickens home, they snuggle them close to their face or they kiss them, and then we see some mistakes and a salmonella outbreak,” Ms Shoop told The Times. “The best way to prevent that is to wash your hands after you touch chickens, their manure, their eggs or their meat.”

Salmonella can be picked up by animals through food that has been contaminated but the bacteria can also live in their intestines naturally.

Animals can also get Salmonella from their mothers before they are born or hatched, according to the CDC.

The anxiety of the pandemic led some first-time buyers to purchase chickens. The sale of the animal often rises in times of economic stress such as stock market falls and during times of anxiety such as during presidential election years, The Times reported.

This led to more than 1,700 Salmonella infections as of December 2020, according to the CDC, who linked it to “backyard poultry”.

More than 300 people ended up in hospital and one person died. Officials said this outbreak was higher than previous outbreaks linked to backyard poultry.

“These are not house pets, and a lot of people confuse that,” Ms Shoop told The Times.

“If you are going snuggle them close to your face or mouth, you probably ought to wash your face and brush your teeth too just to prevent any cross-contamination from those birds,” she added. “Chickens aren’t dirty animals by any means, but they naturally have a lot of bacteria around their bodies.”

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