Chickens are great. They lay delicious eggs, they eat bugs that would otherwise kill your plants and (in my esteemed opinion) they are extremely adorable. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is begging people: Please stop hugging your chickens! It could be hazardous to your health.
This recommendation has been made in the past, notably in 2017 when there was a salmonella outbreak that had been linked to the cuddling of backyard fowl in at least 47 states. More recently, there has been another surge in salmonella cases, again stemming from close encounters with feathered friends, and the CDC is repeating its recommendation that chicken-owners stop cuddling with the birds.
Reports of illnesses from the recent outbreak began on Feb. 12, 2021, and as of May 20, a total of 163 people across 43 states have reportedly been infected with one of the outbreak strains. From the available data, 34 people have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported. The number of people infected is probably higher than these numbers suggest, however, as some people recover from the illness without medical care and without being tested for salmonella.
Now, I know this is painful to hear, but the CDC is certain that these salmonella outbreaks are a result of humans coming into contact with their backyard chickens. The organization is advising poultry owners not to “kiss or snuggle backyard poultry, and don’t eat or drink around them,” as doing so can spread germs to your mouth and cause you to become infected with salmonella.
You’ll also want to keep a close eye on any children that are keen on hugging hens. The CDC cautions that children younger than 5 years old shouldn’t touch chicks, ducklings or other backyard fowl, as these young kiddos are more likely to get sick from germs like salmonella.
“Backyard poultry, like chicken and ducks, can carry salmonella germs even if they look healthy and clean,” the CDC states. “These germs can easily spread to anything in the areas where they live and roam.”
According to the CDC’s research, this is a problem that won’t be going away anytime soon. Rates of salmonella have skyrocketed with the popularity of backyard chickens. “In 2016, a record number of illnesses were linked to contact with backyard poultry,” they warned in 2017.
And now, here we are again.
Signs Of A Salmonella Infection
Salmonella infection symptoms will generally appear several hours to a few days after the bacteria is ingested, according to the Mayo Clinic. The infection causes stomach flu-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills and headache.
Symptoms generally last two to seven days, though Mayo also reports that in some cases it can take months for bowels to return to normal.
What Can You Do To Stay Safe And Healthy?
First, put down the chicken. Then, make sure to always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching live fowl (or anything in the coop). You should also wash your clothes and spray off your shoes with antibacterial soap after handling birds and their eggs, and keep all the supplies used for the chickens’ care outside of the house.
Be sure to collect eggs often and throw away any cracked eggs. The CDC suggests rubbing dirty eggs gently with a brush, cloth or sandpaper, as washing them with cold water can pull germs into the egg.
And from now on, maybe just give your birds a pat instead of a squeeze.
Another Way To Get In Your Cuddle
If you live in cooler climates, you may have heard about the “chicken sweater” craze. Yes, people are knitting sweaters for their chickens. Specifically designed for our feathered friends, a sweater offers more warmth for a chicken’s tiny body.
This soft and stylish number from Etsy seller TheSparklyhead will run you $25.
Chicken sweaters are typically knitted by hand (if you’re not a knitter, you can find some beautifully designed garments on Etsy) and are secured by buttons or velcro. Think of them like a mock sleeveless turtleneck — the sweaters don’t cover the chickens’ wings, so they’re able to move about freely and flap their wings as they desire.
Want to get fancy? Use different buttons, yarn or stitch pattern to jazz up the design of their outfits. Your chickens will be strutting their stuff in a cozy sweater in no time.