Infectious Disease in Illinois

Human Health Concerns About Raising Poultry

An increasing number of citizens want to raise chickens in urban environments as a hobby or they may believe this method of raising birds for food may be safer or less expensive. Citizens should check to make sure that flocks are allowed in the area where they reside before purchasing poultry. This document examines the public health significance of some common concerns about urban poultry farming.

Bacterial diseases

Salmonella and Campylobacter are common public health hazards potentially associated with chicken contact. These bacteria are carried by healthy chickens and are communicable to people through direct contact, exposure to manure, or consumption of undercooked chicken and eggs. Infection is characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and/or abdominal cramps; small children, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to severe illness. Young birds may be especially prone to shed these organisms in their droppings. This poses a hazard to anyone who comes into contact with the droppings. The public health hazards associated with Salmonella and Campylobacter are expected to be limited to those who are in contact with the chickens or their droppings or consume their meat or eggs without thorough cooking. There have been several multi-state outbreaks of human Salmonella infections from handling baby chicks. These hazards could be mitigated by avoiding contact with poultry feces, carefully washing hands with soap and water after handling the birds, avoiding hand-to-mouth contact while working with birds and education about food safety.

Histoplasmosis

Histoplasmosis can cause a respiratory disease with cough and shortness of breath. The fungal organism causing this disease is present throughout the Midwest but can be concentrated in areas with quantities of bird droppings. Persons acquire the disease by inhalation of the organism from the environment. Therefore, it is critical that flock owners have a method to maintain the property to minimize the accumulation of bird droppings. Animal waste should be disposed of in a safe manner.

Avian influenza (bird flu)

Avian influenza is a theoretical public health hazard potentially associated with urban chicken farming. Birds can shed the organism in the saliva, nasal secretions and feces. Avian influenza is a viral disease of birds that is communicable to people through exposure to respiratory or fecal secretions. The risk of human avian influenza infections in the United States is extremely low and is expected to be limited to those who are in contact with infected chickens.

Exotic Newcastle disease

Exotic Newcastle disease, a viral disease that is not normally found in the United States, is not a significant public health hazard in this context. While exotic Newcastle disease can cause mild eye infections in people, the greater concern is that the introduction of exotic Newcastle disease in privately owned chicken flocks can cause major economic damage in communities where commercial chicken farming is an important industry.

Attraction of predators

The attraction of predators is a public health hazard potentially associated with urban chicken farming. The presence of chickens on a property might attract urban predators such as stray dogs, foxes and coyotes. This would increase the probability of conflict between humans and predators in the urban environment (e.g., animal bites). This hazard could be mitigated by requiring flock owners to provide sufficient structural protection to prevent predator access to their flocks.

Attraction of rodents

The attraction of rodents is a public health hazard potentially associated with urban chicken farming. Failure to maintain a clean environment for the chickens could attract mice or rats to a property. This hazard could be mitigated by educating flock owners on the proper care and maintenance of chicken flocks including the proper storage of bird feed.

Nuisance issues

The odor and noise that might be associated with urban chicken farming are not public health hazards. Poultry may escape into neighbors’ yards. Flies might be attracted to the area unless adequate fly control is practiced. Communities are advised to have a system in place for handling public complaints regarding these issues if they allow urban poultry flocks.

Management and handling of poultry in small backyard flocks

  • Keep baby chicks and adult poultry away from persons with weaker immune systems, including the elderly, pregnant women, diabetics, patients receiving chemotherapy and people infected with HIV.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that person not keep chickens if the household has children less than five years of age.

  • Make sure that people who handle the chickens or their droppings, wash hands properly with soap and water following contact.

  • Do not eat or drink around the poultry.

  • Keep poultry away from food preparation areas.

  • Do not wash items, such as water or food dishes, from chicken coops in the kitchen sink.

  • Do not allow poultry to roam in the house.

  • Maintain the area where the poultry are present in a sanitary manner.

  • See your physician if you experience fever and diarrhea.

Conclusion

The public health hazards potentially associated with urban chicken farming should be weighed against individual and community benefits. Public health infectious disease hazards can be mitigated by education and regulation and are expected to be limited to those who are in contact with the chickens or consuming their meat or eggs without thorough cooking.

Communities that permit urban chicken farming are advised to ensure that flock owners receive educational materials on infectious diseases, animal husbandry, food safety and biosecurity. These communities also should have a system in place for responding to community complaints.

References

CDC. Keeping Live Poultry. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/Features/SalmonellaPoultry.

CDC. Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food—10 States, 2009. MMWR 2010;59:418-422.

CDC. Multistate Outbreaks of Salmonella Infections Associated with Live Poultry --- United States, 2007. MMWR 2009; 58: 25-29.

CDC. Three Outbreaks of Salmonellosis Associated with Baby Poultry from Three Hatcheries --- United States, 2006. MMWR 2007;56:273-276.

CDC. Salmonella Serotype Montevideo Infections Associated with Chicks -- Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, Spring 1995 and 1996 . MMWR 1997;46:237-239.

National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2009. MMWR 2009;58(RR-5):1-21.

Scallan E et al. Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States—Major Pathogens. Emerg Infect Dis. 2011 Jan; [Epub ahead of print].

Swayne DE and King DJ. Zoonosis Update: Avian influenza and Newcastle disease. Jour Amer Vet Med Assoc 2003;222:1534-1540.

United States Department of Agriculture. Biosecurity for Birds. Available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity.

Poultry Safe Handling Posters: English | En Español

March 2012





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