Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Backyard Chickens

Small and Backyard Flocks June 10, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

Woman with chick on arm

Most people know Salmonella can be found in raw and undercooked meat, poultry, dairy and eggs. But often they don’t know backyard poultry can carry the Salmonella germs that make people ill.

“When people had chickens and ducks on the farm, the poultry weren’t considered pets. They were livestock. People didn’t hold them or come in close contact as they might today with backyard flocks,” said Jacquie Jacob, Poultry Extension Associate at the University of Kentucky. “Owners of backyard flocks need to be sure people who are around their poultry wash their hands often and that the manure is disposed of properly,” she advised. Proper disposal of chicken manure includes composting, incinerating and removal by a waste management service.

“Many people think about backyard chickens as they think about their outdoor dogs and cats. When you touch any outdoor animals, you need to wash your hands,” said Brigid McCrea, Extension Poultry Specialist at Delaware State University. “Unless you regularly test your birds for Salmonella, you can’t assume they won’t transmit germs that can cause humans problems.”

Children have naïve immune systems which make them more susceptible to the bacteria. Adults with weakened immune systems and the elderly are also susceptible to the bacteria. Salmonella germs can cause a diarrheal illness in people that can be mild, severe or even life threatening.

Salmonella can live in the intestines of birds and not affect the health of the poultry, but it can affect the humans who touch the poultry or the surfaces the birds have touched. Live poultry may have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on the outside of their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can be on cages, coops, hay, plants and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. The germs can be on the hands, shoes and clothing of those who handle the birds or work or play where they live and roam.

On August 15 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reports of 316 persons from 37 states infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium. Among 199 ill persons with available information, 51 (26 per cent) have been hospitalized. Fifty nine per cent of ill persons were children 10 years of age or younger.

The state with the largest number of reported cases was Colorado. Eric McPhail, Gunnison County Director for Colorado State University Extension, says even in his rural county he has seen a heightened desire for information on raising 10 or less chickens. “It’s definitely a growing sector of the local food movement,” he said and admits he has five backyard chickens his children are using for 4-H projects. McPhail says because his area is rural, most of his clients are raising chickens for the eggs and at present don’t consider them pets.

CDC advice to consumers

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until you can wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Do not let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms or especially in areas where food or drinks are prepared, served or stored such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
  • Do not let children younger than five years of age, older adults or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry.
  • Do not snuggle or kiss the birds.
  • Do not touch your mouth, eat or drink around live poultry.
  • Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry such as cages, feed and water containers outside the house on a weekly basis.

Related information
The small and backyard flock resource on eXtension has information on getting started as well as poultry anatomy, behavior, biology and management. The group produces webinars to help learn about small and backyard poultry flocks. The upcoming webinars, as well as those available on demand, are listed at

Information on Salmonella,

Fact sheet from Colorado State University on Home-Produced Chicken Eggs,



Released August 30, 2013
Jacquie Jacob, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Poultry Extension Associate,
Brigid McCrea, Ph.D., Delaware State University Extension Poultry Specialist,
Eric McPhail, M.S., Colorado State University Extension Director for Gunnison County,

Writer: Lynette Spicer, eXtension,

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.