After hundreds get sick, CDC warns about backyard chickens

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Chickens have become a staple in city backyards, especially in Austin. While they can provide many benefits to a home, owners must also be aware health dangers.

The CDC says over 600 people have caught salmonella from backyard chickens and ducks in the past few months, spanning across 45 states, including Texas.

Many of the people infected are young children.

“Not everyone is as concerned as they should be about contamination,” said Ken Bushong, owner of Buck Moore Feed and Supply. “Everyone should always wash up after handling chickens.”

Bushong says the number of backyard chicken owners in Austin has skyrocketed over the past 10 years. When they originally opened shop in 1972, the majority of customers were farmers. Now it’s a totally different story.

“We sell about a ton [of feed] a day now. Given the fact a chicken eats around a quarter-of-a-pound a day, that’s a lot of chickens in Austin!”

He stresses sanitation to his customers.

“Keeping all the cages and grounds clean. And all the feeders and waters cleaned up,” said Bushong.

Austin homeowner Ellie Hanlon has had chickens for over three years now.

“They’re really kind of fun pets. Easy to take care of, and the eggs, you can’t beat the eggs,” said Hanlon.

She has a routine every morning when taking care of the chickens, which always ends with her washing her hands. “If for any reason we do have people over and we’re serving food in this area, and we think kids may have been touching the chickens, we’ll bring out hand sanitizer,” said Hanlon.

Health officials say if you’re going to handle chickens, always wash your hands right after with soap and water.

They say members of the public infected with salmonella reported buying live baby poultry from several suppliers, including feed supply stores, Internet sites, hatcheries and friends in multiple states. Some reported contact with live poultry in their homes, work or school settings.

They don’t recommend letting live poultry in the house, especially where food and drinks are stored.

Texas has only seen four cases of people infected by salmonella. But on the east coast, some states like New York, Ohio and Virginia, have seen dozens.

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