This year, a series of seven Salmonella outbreaks has affected more than 300 people across 35 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traced the source of the illness to the handling of live baby chickens from backyard flocks.

To curb the spread of illness, the CDC confirmed an ongoing, collaborative effort between federal and state public health officials, agriculture and veterinary officials, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) is also assisting in the outbreak investigations.

What is Salmonella poisoning?

kitchenSymptoms of Salmonella poisoning may include abdominal cramps, chills, fever, nausea, and vomiting. The severity of symptoms varies according to different factors, including an individual’s level of health and the particular strain of infection.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Salmonella poisoning is among the most common and widely spread foodborne illnesses, affecting tens of millions of people each year and killing 100,000 people annually, although most cases of salmonellosis are mild in nature. Because of the prevalence of Salmonellosis (the sickness caused by the bacteria Salmonella), Salmonella has become a serious public health concern. Additionally, many strains of the bacteria are resistant to antimicrobial treatment, which further complicates efforts to thwart the illness.

What the investigations reveal

Investigators have identified seven strains of the outbreak to date: Salmonella Enteritidis, Salmonella Muenster, Salmonella Hadar, Salmonella Indiana, Salmonella Mbandaka, Salmonella Infantis, and Salmonella Braenderup. Of these strains, Salmonella Enteritidis is the most prevalent, with 132 people sickened across 15 states.

eggsAccording to the CDC, the people who fell ill during the recent outbreaks purchased the poultry for various reasons, including “to produce eggs, learn about agriculture, have as a hobby, enjoy for fun, keep as pets, or to give as Easter gifts.” These people purchased the birds from friends, feed-supply retailers, co-ops, and hatcheries.

Individuals infected with Salmonella Enteritidis reported the dates of illness between January 4 and May 11. Health officials in Michigan, the state with the largest number of reported illnesses at 25, obtained samples from live poultry at various feed stores.

These samples isolated the strain at a state lab and identified it as Salmonella Enteritidis.

Salmonella Indiana affected the second-largest number of people, with 46 illnesses reported across 13 states. Of the 23 ill people interviewed, 18 of them (78 percent) reported handling live poultry.

Salmonella Mbandaka was the rarest type of strain reported, affecting 12 people from seven states. In this instance, 90 percent of individuals interviewed reported having contact with live poultry.

Sources indicate that of the over 300 people sickened, 66 have been hospitalized and one person has died. Additional testing of the person that passed ruled out Salmonella poisoning as the cause of death.

To date, one of the seven outbreak strains responds favorably to antibiotic treatment. The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) division of the CDC continues to test other strains for potential antibiotic susceptibility. Upon conclusion of tests, the CDC will release a report for public distribution.

Going forward

The CDC reports via the organization’s website that these outbreaks are expected to continue for the next several months. Contributing to this prognosis is the understanding that many flock owners may be unaware of the Salmonella risk from live poultry or may engage in risky behaviors that result in infection.

To prevent this, the CDC continues its educational outreach, warning the public that despite a healthy and clean appearance, live poultry can potentially contain Salmonella germs on various parts of its body. The feathers, feet, and beaks can all harbor Salmonella bacteria, which can cross-contaminate the surfaces of coops and cages, plants, and soil.

Additionally, the CDC notes three specific actions that people should take to prevent the spread of Salmonellosis from backyard flocks. First, it recommends that individuals always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling live poultry or touching the places in which they live. Second, people should never keep live poultry inside of a human dwelling at any time. Lastly, parents should not allow children under the age of 5 to hold or pet live chicks or ducklings.