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While we’re certainly tired of facing salmonella outbreaks, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s such a common infection in American. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, salmonella poisoning is responsible for nearly half of the gastrointestinal bacterial infections in the United States, leading to 19,000 hospitalizations, 380 deaths, and about 1.4 million cases every year. While there is a wide variety of things that cause salmonella poisoning, just recently it’s been announced that at least 212 people across 44 states have been sickened by salmonella due to contact with live poultry, both chicks and ducklings, in backyard flocks.
Salmonella poisoning is usually linked to the ingestion of contaminated water or foods, especially amongst undercooked meats, poultry, and eggs. Apart from food and water consumption, however, salmonella is commonly contracted by coming into physical contact with something that’s already contaminated, as in this case, live poultry. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over two hundred individuals have become ill after the purchase of live chicks and ducklings for backyard coops. These poultry have been purchased from relatives, feed supply stores, hatcheries, or websites, and due to the vastness of the outbreak, the CDC issued a warning explaining that salmonella poisoning is able to be contracted by simply touching live poultry, their surroundings, or eggs. The CDC additionally warned that even poultry appearing clean and healthy can be carrying Salmonella.
The CDC as well as multiple states have launched an investigation process in order to identify the source of the infections and potentially contain the threat. The investigation ultimately linked the outbreak to the presence of live poultry in people’s backyards, and according to the investigations, several different types of salmonella bacteria have caused illness. Salmonella senftenberg, Salmonella montevideo, Salmonella infantis, Salmonella enteritidis, and more were involved in causing “the largest number of human illnesses ever linked to contact with live poultry during a single outbreak.”
Twenty-six percent of the infected patients are children younger than five years old, and while thirty-four people have been hospitalized, no deaths have yet to be reported. Eighty-seven percent of the infected people were found to have purchased chicks or ducklings from a single mail-order hatchery in Ohio, which has been linked to other salmonella outbreaks in the past. While the multiple state investigation is still underway, the CDC has issued several tips for poultry owners to help contain the outbreak. The CDC recommended that poultry owners never keep live poultry inside the house, only use one specific pair of shoes when taking care of one’s poultry, and always keep those shoes outside of the house. Children younger than five years old should not be allowed to handle or touch poultry, especially not without adult supervision, and hands must be washed after contact with poultry or their surroundings, all according to CDC recommendations.
Advanced testing techniques have helped discover the links in this outbreak as well as determine if we are dealing with super bugs (antibiotic resistant) strains of Salmonella. According to the CDC,
“WGS analysis to identify antibiotic resistance was performed for 118 isolates from ill people in this outbreak. Twenty-two isolates from ill people contained genes expected to cause resistance or decreased susceptibility to all or some of the following antibiotics: ampicillin, streptomycin, sulfamethoxazole, tetracycline, gentamicin, ceftriaxone, amoxicillin-clavulanic acid, cefoxitin, ciprofloxacin, and fosfomycin. Ninety-six isolates did not identify predicted resistance. Testing of 5 outbreak isolates using standard antibiotic susceptibility testing by CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) laboratory confirmed these results. Some infections may be difficult to treat with commonly recommended antibiotics, and may require another kind of antibiotic.”
A 2016 statistical study on live poultry outbreaks found that between the years of 1990–2014, there were a total of 53 Salmonella outbreaks linked to live poultry – involving 2,630 illnesses, 387 hospitalizations, and 5 deaths. The breakdown, as referenced in the study, is as follows:
Details on live poultry–associated salmonellosis outbreaks, by year, United States, 1990–2014
|Year||Serotype||No. illnesses||No. hospitalizations||No. deaths||Month of first illness in outbreak||Outbreak duration, mo||Reference(s)|
|2012||Infantis, Newport, Lille, Thompson||195||34||3||March||6||(29,30)|
|2013||Infantis, Mbandaka, Lille, Newport||158||29||0||March||7||(31–33)|
|2014||Infantis, Newport, Hadar||363||76||0||February||9|
|Total||2,630||387||5||March (median)||4.9 mo (median)|
Preventing these kinds of outbreaks can be somewhat difficult, since it’s difficult to determine where contamination took place. It requires an integrated approach that must involve hatcheries, feed stores, online sellers, and consumers, since even small contact with salmonella can pass on the infection. According to the CDC, “feed stores should use physical barriers (e.g., a wall or fence) between customers and poultry displays to prevent direct contact with poultry.” It’s crucial for people to be aware that even adorable chicks and ducklings can be sources of salmonella, and they can cause serious, hospitalization-requiring illnesses amongst young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
Other kinds of prevention techniques are entirely up to the consumer. Things like containing your poultry in outdoor coops, only wearing a specific pair of shoes when inside the coop, not allowing children to play with poultry, and thoroughly washing one’s hands immediately after touching live poultry or after touching anything around where poultry roam or live are all ways to help eliminate bacteria. These techniques can be used for additional pets as well, since chickens and ducks aren’t the only animals that carry salmonella Lizards, turtles, and hamsters have all been linked to serious gastrointestinal infections in the past.
The investigations are still ongoing, but there are plenty of things that poultry owners can do in order to prevent salmonella infections. Keeping poultry does not have to be a difficult or dangerous process as long as they are appropriately treated and infection is properly prevented.
By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)