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.
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 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.
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
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.
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