Looks like it’s once again time for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to play the role of buzzkill. In the midst of a new outbreak of Salmonella bacteria linked to pet birds, the CDC is warning feather lovers: Please don’t smooch or snuggle your backyard chickens, ducks, or other assorted poultry.
Birds and other animals like turtles regularly carry Salmonella bacteria, typically without becoming sick. But if people come across these bacteria through contact with the animals, their byproducts (poop), or the surfaces they touch, they’re sometimes not so lucky. In people, Salmonella infections can cause awful but usually self-limiting symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.
According to the CDC, there have been at least 163 cases of Salmonella infections in 43 states traced to backyard birds since mid-February this year. Out of these cases, 34 people have been hospitalized, though none have died. But it’s likely that the true number of cases is much higher, since most people with milder symptoms will recover on their own and never seek medical care or testing. Still, the new outbreaks were enough to make the CDC take its “Don’t Kiss Chickens” sign out from storage.
“Don’t kiss or snuggle backyard poultry, and don’t eat or drink around them. This can spread Salmonella germs to your mouth and make you sick,” the CDC warned in an advisory updated Thursday.
Other CDC-endorsed tips to avoid catching Salmonella from your flock include: keeping your birds and related supplies like their feed in a clearly separate place from your home; washing your hands with soap and water soon after touching the birds, their eggs, or their homes; and cooking their eggs thoroughly and not using cracked eggs, since it’s easier for the bacteria to contaminate them. Kids under age 5 should especially be kept away from backyard birds, since they’re more at risk for serious illness from foodborne germs like Salmonella.
This isn’t the first time that the CDC has told people to not be overly familiar with their birds, but clearly, it’s a message that bears repeating, and not just for pet birds either. This year, there have also been outbreaks of Salmonella linked to pet turtles and wild songbirds. Really, as cute as all of our animal companions are, it’s probably best to avoid lip contact with them in general.