Salmonella outbreak linked to backyard chickens; 16 sickened in Washington

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — An outbreak of Salmonella that has sickened more than 350 people nationwide and 16 here in Washington state has been linked to backyard chickens and other poultry.

Five people were hospitalized in the state and no deaths have been reported, the Washington State Department of Health says. Seven of the 16 people sickened in the state are younger than age five.

Nationwide, 71 people have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported. More than a third of those sickened are children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the department of health say the nationwide outbreak is linked to contact with live poultry, such as chicks and ducklings. All of the sick reported obtaining baby poultry from several sources, including feed supply stores, websites, hatcheries and relatives.

The CDC has previously reported an uptick in salmonella cases because of an uptick in the number of people keeping and raising chickens.

Peggy Vertrees with Country Farm and Feed said the number of people purchasing chickens for their backyard has "quadrupled" in the past five years. She says it's often first-time poultry owners who come in to buy.

The store is checked regularly by the Department of Agriculture, bedding is changed frequently, and signs and hand-sanitizer pepper the store for anyone handling a chick. She says all first-time buyers are given strict instructions on how to safely handle chicks.

"When we set people up, we explain everything," Vertrees said. "We deal with a lot more people for starters."

Another possible reason for the outbreak? People kissing chickens.

According to the CDC’s research, 13 percent of the chicken-related salmonella cases they studied from 1990 to 2014 were due, in part, to some human-on-chicken smooching. Forty-nine percent of patients studied said they had snuggled baby chicks, and 46 percent of the CDC's respondents kept chickens in the house.

Vertrees encouraged "newbies" handling chicks for the first time to pay attention to the feed store's advice for handling chicks.

"Always wash your hands and keep hand sanitizer handy," Vertrees said.

The people infected are from Chelan, Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, King (2), Kitsap, Kittitas, Lewis, Mason, Pierce (2), Snohomish, Yakima (2), and Whatcom counties.

Children under five, adults over 65, and people with a weakened immune system are most likely to get sick from Salmonella. The health department encouraged people who fit the criteria avoid handling live poultry.

Head to the CDC's website for more on how to properly handle live poultry.