PORTLAND -- Since the boom in the local foods movement, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have noticed a spike in something else: salmonella.
It seems more people are getting sick from their backyard chickens, and it may be because they are getting a little too friendly with their flock.
Chickens are not only a source of fresh eggs. They can also be a source of sickness.
“People just don’t know that healthy chickens, ducks and other poultry carry germs like salmonella,” said Casey Barton Behravesh, a zoonotic disease expert with the CDC.
Over the past two decades, there have been more than 2,000 reported cases of salmonella linked to live poultry. Five people have died.
The latest outbreak was linked to chicks supplied by a mail-order hatchery in Ohio. More than 60 people in 23 states have fallen ill, including one in Washington. The true number affected is likely higher, but so far there have been no deaths.
“For every single case of salmonella infection that’s reported to public health officials, CDC studies estimate that there’s as many at 29 others out there,” said Behravesh.
A majority of patients are young children. Cases often spike after Easter when parents order chicks as gifts.
Most illnesses occur when chicken owners treat their birds like family, bringing them into their homes. More than one in 10 owners admits to kissing their birds.
“Don’t kiss the bird!” said Behravesh. “You can show your affections in other ways with a simple pet or something like that.”
While there’s no need to limit your interactions with chickens, do not let them in the house and wash your hands.
The hatchery released a statement saying they are working with the USDA on a voluntary salmonella reduction program.