Summertime means county and state fairs in Indiana, Kentucky, and other states around the country. Most, if not all, of these will feature livestock raised by individuals in the area hoping to take home a coveted blue ribbon. While waiting to be shown, a majority of these animals are kept in barns or shelter houses at the fairgrounds that are open to the public allowing visitors to take a look at them up close, and in some cases touch them (if the owners allow it). While seeing the livestock is part of the fair-going experience, the CDC is reminding everyone how to keep themselves and their families safe while interacting with them. Specifically, "backyard chickens."

Salmonella Outbreaks Linked to Backyard Poultry

Assuming individuals who raise chickens and livestock do their best to raise their animals in the most sanitary conditions possible, at the end of the day, they are still wild animals that predominantly live outdoors in some type of structure like a barn or coop where they are exposed to the elements which makes them susceptible to bacteria and other germs that can be harmful to humans.

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The CDC is currently tracking a multi-state salmonella outbreak they believe is linked to what they call "backyard chickens" which they define as "any domesticated bird often kept for producing eggs or meat." In addition to chickens, the definition also includes ducks, geese, guinea fowl, and turkeys.

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To date, the agency has received reports of 410 illnesses in 45 states with 84 of those cases resulting in hospitalization. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported yet. With that said, the agency believes the number of cases is likely much higher as most people recover from salmonella infections without the need for medical care and are never tested for the bacteria.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Family

While the agency did specifically reference county and state fairs as a potential source for contracting salmonella, it does say that even if the birds appear healthy and clean, they can still carry the bacteria due to their exposure to the environment.

As with any bacteria or germ, you can be infected by salmonella by touching a bird or its eggs that has it, then touching your mouth of food then swallowing it. Of course, since bacteria are microscopic and can't be seen by the naked eye, you can never assume you're in the clear. The CDC says it's important to wash your hands immediately or use hand sanitizer after handling any type of poultry or its eggs, They also suggest not snuggling or kissing a chicken, no matter how much you love it, as that obviously provides a more direct path for the bacteria to enter your system.

Signs of Salmonella Infection

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Symptoms of salmonella infection can appear anywhere between six hours and six days after the bacteria has entered your body, according to the CDC. If you show any of these signs after handling live poultry, you should call your doctor immediately:

  • Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102°F
  • Diarrhea for more than 3 days that is not improving
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • So much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration, such as:
    • Not peeing much
    • Dry mouth and throat
    • Feeling dizzy when standing up

As bad as salmonella infection sounds, the (very small) silver lining is most people who get infected recover anywhere between four and seven days without medication. I imagine those are a long and miserable four to seven days, but the chances of you dying from it are slim if you have an otherwise healthy immune system.

Keep this in mind when visiting your local fair. Especially if you have children who will undoubtedly want to touch every animal they see. While some livestock areas I've seen at county fairs no have hand sanitizer stations in them, it probably wouldn't hurt to keep a bottle on you in case a bathroom or handwashing sink isn't near by.

[Source: CDC]

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