Backyard chickens and human health risk

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Keeping chickens in the backyard has become more popular in recent years, but there’s a downside. Many states are reporting salmonella outbreaks linked to backyard flocks, health officials said this week, and they’re calling for owners to take steps to reduce infection risk.

So far this year, 47 states have reported cases of human salmonella connected with backyard flocks, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said this week, including 372 people infected. A little over a third of those who became ill were children under age 5. Seventy-one people have been hospitalized.

The symptoms of Salmonella infection include nausea and vomiting, blood in the stool, fever, chills and abdominal pain.

Chicks and ducks may appear clean to the human eye, but they can still carry salmonella. Here are other ways flock owners can avoid getting sick:

• Always wash hands well with soap and water after handling feathered pets, and keep hands away from the face.
• Don’t let live poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food is served.
• Don’t let kids under 5 handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry without adult supervision.
• Toss eggs that look dirty or cracked. Don’t rinse them with cold water.
• Refrigerate the eggs after you take them from the coop.
• Cook eggs well.

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How are producers keeping animals healthy, as livestock antibiotics use declines ?

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As antibiotics have become more widely used and powerful, so have the illnesses they were designed to fight. And an outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” is a real fear of many — including consumers, legislators and meat processors.

More people using more antibiotics for more illnesses has helped give germs the impetus to strengthen. However, consumers are also exposed to the antibiotics given to the animals used in the meat they eat. Just as some doctors are now less likely to grab their prescription pad for patients with minor illnesses, many meat producers are now adopting strategies to use fewer antibiotics on their livestock.

Regardless of whether medicine or meat is more at fault in creating the “superbug” threat, meat processors are figuring out how to balance their use of antibiotics with general public opinion. While many companies have chosen to reduce or eliminate their use of antibiotics, others have chosen to promote transparency of their antibiotics use to dispel myths and better inform consumers.

Getting rid of antibiotics — or not

Most companies have opted to make changes in their supply chain to reduce or eliminate antibiotics.

“We’re doing this because it’s the most responsible approach to balance a global health concern and animal well-being,” Worth Sparkman, public relations manager at Tyson Foods, told Food Dive. “…We want to be part of the solution.”

Cargill has insisted on focusing its efforts around “science-based and fact-based solutions.”

“We want to be thoughtful about how we approach the reduction of antibiotics, as there are usually consequences for doing so,” Michael Martin, director of communications at Cargill, told Food Dive. “(They include) higher death loss, increased use of antibiotics at higher doses for therapeutic use to treat disease, increased production costs and an increased volume of resources used to raise livestock and poultry.”

What alternatives they’re using

Poultry processors in particular have employed a number of alternatives to antibiotics to treat sick animals and prevent the spread of disease.

  • Essential oils: Cargill announced in January that the company had developed a proprietary blend of essential oils, called the Promote Biacid Nucleus feed additive. Sparkman said Tyson has also explored using essential oils in its efforts to replace certain antibiotics.
  • Improved feed products: Cargill has developed feed products that can improve animal health without the need for antibiotic treatments.
  • Industry best practices for health and hygiene
  • Routine health examinations
  • Veterinary advice, particularly about disease prevention
  • Improved animal genetics
  • Enhanced animal handling and management practices
  • Proven biosecurity measures
  • Vaccines

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Salmonella outbreak in chickens

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The Cass County Extension Office is warning those who own chickens to be on the lookout for a new Salmonella outbreak.

According to a statement from the Texas Animal Commission, “An ongoing Salmonella outbreak has sickened at least 611 people in 45 states, including Texas, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak has been linked to live poultry in backyard flocks.

By following these simple guidelines you can help minimize the risk.

  • Keep Your Distance – Restrict access to your property and your poultry, and post a sign.
  • Keep It Clean – Wear clean clothes, scrub your shoes/boots with disinfectant, and wash hands thoroughly.
  • Don’t Haul Disease Home – If you have shown birds at a fair or exhibition or are bringing in new animals, keep them separated from the rest of your flock for 30 days after the event.
  • Don’t Borrow Disease From Your Neighbor – Do not share equipment, tools, or other supplies with your neighbors or other livestock or poultry owners. • Look For Signs of Infectious Diseases – You should know what diseases are of concern to your flock and be on the lookout for unusual signs or behavior, severe illness and/or sudden deaths.
  • Report Sick Animals – Don’t wait. Report serious or unusual animal health problems to your veterinarian, State or Federal animal health officials or local extension office.

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