Public health officials are crying fowl over a recent spike in poultry-related diseases—backyard fowl, to be exact.
Since January, nearly 1,000 people have contracted salmonella poisoning from chickens and ducks in 48 states and the District of Columbia. More than 200 were hospitalized and one person died. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that toll was four times higher than in 2015.
While there aren't any reliable national figures for how many city folk have taken to keeping chickens, there's a vocal community of domesticated fowl lovers on the web, with more than 340,000 people following the Facebook page of Backyard Poultry magazine. A survey this year by the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found about 100,000 urban poultry enthusiasts in that state alone.
One big factor in the disease outbreak is urban farmers getting too affectionate with their birds or letting them inside the house. As the CDC states in its health advice on backyard chickens, "Avoid kissing your birds or snuggling them, then touching your mouth."
The surge in poultry-related disease seems to be directly tied to the urban henhouse trend. "In 2017, CDC and multiple states investigated 10 separate multistate outbreaks of salmonella infections in people who had contact with live poultry in backyard flocks," according to the CDC.
Poultry can carry salmonella bacteria in their intestines that can turn up their feces. The bacteria then can attach to feathers and dust and brush off on shoes or clothing.
But the CDC says illnesses can be prevented with proper handling, including washing hands after touching the birds.