DPHHS Officials Encourage Safe Handling Of Live Poultry

State health officials are raising awareness about the health risks associated with raising backyard birds.

Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) epidemiologist Rachel Hinnenkamp said that while raising backyard birds has become an increasingly popular activity in the state, there are health risks to be aware of.

She said live poultry can carry germs such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, which can cause humans to get sick with symptoms including diarrhea, stomach pain, fever, and sometimes vomiting.

“Healthy poultry, including chicks and ducklings, can carry and shed bacteria such as Salmonella or Campylobacter without showing any signs of disease,” Hinnenkamp said. It’s important to remember to wash your hands after contact with live poultry and follow the other safe handling practices described below.

In 2023, there was a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella cases linked to live poultry, with 1,072 illnesses reported across the country, including 247 hospitalizations. That same year, there were 72 salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis cases in Montana reporting contact with live poultry before their illness started.

Additionally, outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI, or bird flu) have continued to sicken bird populations across the world, including in the US and Montana. HPAI causes severe disease and high mortality rates among domestic birds such as chickens and turkeys.

“The risk to human health is currently very low, but if you develop flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, or shortness of breath within 10 days of contact with a sick or dead bird, contact your health care provider and inform them of your symptoms and recent exposure,” DPHHS epidemiologist Devon Cozart said.

Raising your own flock can be a rewarding and fun experience that should include safe handling practices to decrease risk of disease in humans. DPHHS, the Department of Livestock (DOL), and Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) officials encourage safe handling of backyard poultry to prevent potential human illness by using these simple prevention measures:

- Always wash your hands with soap and water right after handling eggs, backyard poultry, or anything in their environment

- Avoid touching dead, injured, or sick backyard poultry

- Supervise children around poultry, and make sure they wash their hands after contact

- Avoid eating or drinking in areas where poultry live or roam

- Avoid kissing or snuggling your birds

- Keep chicks and ducks outside of the home

- Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of backyard birds, and keep those shoes outside of the house

- If you must handle a wild bird or sick or dead poultry, take protective measures. Do not handle the animal with bare skin. Wear gloves while handling animals and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact. Respiratory protection (such as a facemask) and eye protection (such as goggles) are also highly recommended. Severe illness in backyard birds should be reported to DOL at 406-444-1976. Sick or dead wild birds can be reported to your local FWP office, or the FWP wildlife health program in Bozeman at 406-577-7882.

“These prevention measures can help to keep you and your family safe while enjoying the many benefits of raising animals,” said State Veterinarian Dr. Tahnee Szymanski.

Please visit DPHHS website for more information on general backyard safety tips, and https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/avian-influenza/hpai-2022/2022-hpai-commercial-backyard-flocks for more information on avian influenza in the U.S. and Montana.


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