Be careful when handling, raising backyard chickens

A sure sign of spring is the arrival of peeping, cheeping chicks and ducklings in local feed and agriculture supply stores.

Raising chickens at home is becoming increasingly popular, with more municipalities allowing the practice.

But these birds can, surprisingly, be a threat if not handled properly by those who decide to try this new hobby, according to experts at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Young poultry can carry salmonella bacteria. Even handling baby birds in stores can cause a salmonella infection without proper precautions.

“Raising birds for eggs and meat can be fun and educational, but all poultry, even those that appear healthy and clean, have the potential to carry the salmonella bacteria,” said Dr. Mary Grace Stobierski, MDHHS public health veterinarian. “Washing your hands thoroughly before and after handling chicks and other poultry protects both you and your family from the risk of salmonella, and also helps keep the birds healthy.

Salmonella usually does not make the birds sick but can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever and/or abdominal cramps lasting four to seven days or more, the MDHHS advises.

Certain groups have a greater chance of illness from handling live poultry or contact with areas where the birds live: Children younger than 5 years old, older adults or people with weak immune systems.

In 2018, 334 people from 47 states were sickened by salmonella after having contact with live poultry in backyard flocks, including 18 in Michigan. Of the 334 illnesses, 21 percent were children younger than 5 years.

To help protect against salmonella, those around chickens should:

— Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching the birds or anything in their environment. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.

— Use hand sanitizer after touching birds or their environment until hands can be washed thoroughly with soap and water.

— Do not kiss or snuggle birds, touch your mouth or eat or drink around live poultry.

— Don’t let children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65 or people with weakened immune systems from conditions such as cancer treatment, HIV/AIDS or organ transplants handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry.

— Do not keep live poultry inside the house where people live, eat or sleep.

— Keep live poultry away from areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.

— Frequently clean all equipment such as cages, feed, water containers and other materials associated with raising or caring for poultry. Always clean equipment outdoors.

— Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while caring for poultry and keep those shoes outside the home.