People Still Won’t Stop Kissing Chickens, Even Though It’s Making Them Sick

The CDC is once again asking...

COVID-19 has proved that convincing people to follow sensible health advice isn’t always easy. And if you’re hoping more people will put on masks, here’s a bad precedent: Back in 2017, after salmonella outbreaks were traced to backyard chickens, the CDC issued a warning advising people to “not snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry.” Now, in 2020, after salmonella outbreaks have once again been traced to backyard chickens, the CDC has issued a new warning advising people—you guessed it—“Don’t kiss backyard poultry or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth.”

Yup, health officials can’t even convince people to stop kissing chickens.

woman cuddling a chicken
Kathrin Ziegler/Getty Images

On May 20, the CDC first announced this new investigation of “a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Hadar infections linked to contact with backyard poultry.” At the time, 97 people had been infected across 28 states, with cases dating back to February and significantly increasing throughout March and April. This week, the CDC updated its investigation, noting that, now, 465 people had been infected across 42 states—including 86 hospitalizations and one death.

Though the CDC doesn’t appear to explicitly state that these new outbreaks are tied to the coronavirus, a correlation is certainly possible: Back in April, we ran a story on how people had been panic buying baby chicks as a way to create a self-sustaining source of eggs in their own backyard at a time when shelves were low, prices were up, and people were trying to minimize the time spent out of their house. But now, the potential downside of being a novice live poultry owner may be, shall we say, coming home to roost.

“Epidemiologic evidence shows that contact with backyard poultry (such as chicks and ducklings) is the likely source of these outbreaks,” the CDC writes. “In interviews with 226 ill people, 179 (79%) reported contact with chicks and ducklings. People reported obtaining chicks and ducklings from several sources, including agricultural stores, websites, and hatcheries.”

As a result, the CDC wants to remind everyone, “You can get sick with a Salmonella infection from touching backyard poultry or their environment. Backyard poultry can carry Salmonella bacteria even if they look healthy and clean and show no signs of illness.”

And the ways to prevent infections are even somewhat similar to the advice for avoiding the coronavirus. Always wash your hands after dealing with these birds, eggs, or their surroundings, using hand sanitizer if necessary. Be safe around poultry by doing things like changing shoes, not eating around the animals, and not letting them into your house. And, yes, practice a bit of “social distancing” from your chickens—at least when it comes to kissing or hugging them.

If you have backyard chickens or ducks, you can find more tips on raising them responsibly on the CDC website.

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