Think twice before you kiss that cute little chick in the backyard coop.
Backyard poultry flocks have been connected to eight different Salmonella outbreaks across the country. In all, 372 people in 47 states had fallen ill as of the end of May, more than a third of whom were children under the age of five, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No one died, but 71 required hospitalization.
This spring’s outbreaks come on the heels of last year’s record number of Salmonella cases linked to pet poultry. Last year saw 895 cases and three deaths.
Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky have seen 59 of the reported human cases since the beginning of this year. Ohio is leading the Tristate's — and the country's — reports with 31. Kentucky tallied 27 and Indiana had just one, despite one of the strains being named Salmonella Indiana.
To compare, Ohio finished last year as No. 2 in the country with 67 reports, coming in behind New York with 101. Kentucky came in at No. 4 with 46 and Indiana reported 20 cases, according to the department.
As more people keep chickens as pets, more people may contract illnesses from their feathered friends, experts say. Chickens can carry Salmonella bacteria and display no symptoms.
More than 80 percent of the people who contracted Salmonella in these recent outbreaks reported having had contact with live poultry in the week before they became ill.
The best way to avoid contracting Salmonella is to wash well with soap and water after handling them. It’s best to keep separate shoes and even clothes for dealing with chickens.
Children ages five and younger, as well as those who are immunocompromised, are particularly susceptible to contracting such illnesses from chickens.
People headed to a state or county fair will also want to wash well after walking through any livestock area, said Dr. Jennifer Brown, state public health veterinarian, with the Indiana State Department of Health. In addition, they should try to avoid bringing gear, such as strollers, through areas with chickens to avoid picking up germs.
The worst thing to do is to treat your chicken the way you would another household pet.
“You shouldn’t snuggle on or kiss poultry. Bringing them in close contact with your face is a great way to introduce bacteria into your system,” Brown said. “Some of the behaviors you would be doing with a puppy or kitten are just not safe to do with a baby chick.”