GREAT FALLS — Officials with the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services and Department of Livestock announced this week that Salmonella cases linked to live poultry are increasing.
Salmonella infections aren’t only caused by eating contaminated food – they can also come from contact with animals and animal environments, including backyard poultry.
Raising backyard poultry has become an increasingly popular activity in Montana. In a year where a lot of Montanans spent more time at home than normal, many have turned to at-home activities such as raising backyard chicks and ducks.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the COVID pandemic boosted demand for backyard poultry flocks across the country.
“Raising your own flock can be a rewarding and fun experience, but should include safe handling practices to decrease disease risk,” said DPHHS epidemiologist Rachel Hinnenkamp “Even if poultry appear healthy and clean, they can still transmit disease to people.”
While there are many benefits to raising poultry, there are also associated health risks. Last year, 24 Montanans were linked to a multi-state outbreak of 1,722 Salmonella cases caused by contact with live poultry or their environment. This is the largest multi-state backyard poultry outbreak in over 10 years, and it caused at least 333 hospitalizations across the country.
This spring, there have already been eight confirmed Salmonella cases in Montana caused by contact with backyard poultry, including four hospitalizations.
Poultry can carry and shed bacteria such as Salmonella without showing any signs of disease. Salmonella can cause illness in humans and can be spread while handling live poultry or objects in their environment.
Hinnenkamp said children under five and people with weakened immune systems, such as pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic disease, are at the highest risk for infection and should avoid handling live poultry.
Public health and livestock officials encourage safe handling of live poultry to prevent potential human illness using these simple prevention methods:
- Wash your hands with soap and water after handling backyard poultry
- Supervise small children around poultry, and make sure they wash their hands after contact
- Avoid touching your mouth after contact with your birds
- Don’t eat or drink around live poultry
- Avoid kissing or snuggling your birds
- Keep chicks and ducks outside of the home
“These prevention methods will help keep you and your families healthy while enjoying the benefits of raising animals,” said DOL Program Veterinarian Dr. Anna Forseth.