Can My Chickens Make Me Sick?
by Meghan H
Published July 12, 2021
The safety of our flock and our own family is always a top priority when it comes to most chicken keepers. Here at Meyer Hatchery, we have a lot of customers asking us about keeping chickens around small children, and what precautions should be taken so that people don’t get sick. The truth is, chickens are a nearly ideal backyard pet for most families. They are usually very calm, don’t mind being handled, and even contribute to family meals with delicious eggs. But another truth is, that chickens poop EVERYWHERE and can harbor bacteria that can cause illness to humans.
There are a few different conditions that can affect both humans and chickens. These conditions are labeled as zoonotic, which means that the ailment can pass from one species to another. Salmonella is usually a top concern for chicken keepers, but there are also a number of other illnesses that can affect humans. The most common ailments are Salmonella, Listeria, E.coli, and Campylobacter.
Wash Those Hands
After this past year, you are probably a professional hand-washer, but we will say it again in regards to chickens: WASH YOUR HANDS! All of the most common bacterias can be washed away with warm water and soap. Make it a habit to wash your hands after any contact with your coop, eggs, or the chickens themselves.
Salmonella is a bacteria that is found in the intestinal tract and feces of chickens and humans. Undercooked meats, eggs,or even cross-contaminated foods can cause a person to have a salmonella infectection. If your hands come in contact with chicken feces and then any bits end up ingested, that can also cause a salmonella infection. The best way to combat an infection is to cook meats and eggs to proper temperature, and always wash hands after tending to your chickens.
Listeria is one of the more dangerous zoonotic pathogens, being especially dangerous to babies, pregnant women, seniors, and those with weakened immune systems. Chickens becoming sick from Listeria is relatively rare but when contracted, is usually lethal to an entire flock. The most common Listeria bacteria (Listeria monocytogenes) is transmitted through contaminated food. But again, its occurrence is generally rare.
E. coli is naturally occuring in the gut of humans and chickens. Even if chickens are healthy and thriving, E coli bacteria can still be spread to humans through contact with chicken feces. With a healthy digestive system, chickens usually keep the E.coli bacteria at healthy levels. But if chickens become stressed or otherwise immunocompromised from other ailments, an overload of E.coli can occur. Unsanitary conditions can also cause an overload of E.coli, such as dirty water or wet litter due to poor ventilation. Symptoms of E.coli in chickens are ruffled feathers, decreased appetite, lethargy, coughing, and diarrhea.
Campylobacter is similar to Salmonella in that it is naturally found in the intestinal tract of chickens and many other animals. Its transmission to humans is also the same, from droppings to ingestion. Campylobacter is also very commonly found on uncooked poultry, so washing hands after preparing raw chicken, washing any surfaces in contact with raw poultry, and preparing to proper temperature is all very important.
The human symptoms for these ailments are all very similar, so if you or your children experience diarrhea, cramps/aches, fever, and/or vomiting after interacting with your chickens, be sure to seek the help of a healthcare professional.
With proper hygiene, sanitary living conditions for your chickens, and proper storage and preparation of eggs and meat, the chances of humans becoming infected with any chicken-related illness are actually very low. We hope you find this information helpful as you tend to your own family and flock!
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