By Jessie Stensland
Don’t kiss your chickens, health officials caution.
Island County is one of four counties in the state where someone contracted salmonella from backyard poultry in October.
It’s a serious problem. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health have been looking into the outbreak in the chicken- and duck-related illness, according to the Health Department.
The four new Washington cases are in Island, Clallam, Stevens and Spokane counties. The state has had 20 cases so far this year in people from newborn to 85 years old. Two-thirds of the victims were female and eight of the cases resulted in hospitalization, the state reported.
In 2017, the year with the highest number of cases in Washington related to a national outbreak linked to backyard poultry, 23 such cases were reported.
Symptoms of salmonella infection begin about one to three days after exposure and include diarrhea, fever and stomach pain.
Nationwide, the salmonella outbreak this year was the largest in history linked to backyard poultry. A total of 740 people in 49 states were sickened and nearly a third of those ended up in the hospital. Two deaths were reported.
Cuteness and fuzziness can be dangerous. More than half of the afflicted people interviewed were exposed to salmonella by handling chicks and ducklings, the CDC reported.
The chicken, ducks, turkeys and geese that carry salmonella germs can look healthy and clean. The CDC traced the contaminated birds to multiple hatcheries.
Most of those infected were children because they are less likely to wash their hands and more likely to put their fingers in their mouths, according to health officials.
Raising urban and suburban chickens has gained popularity in the past decade or so. Oak Harbor, Langley and Coupeville have ordinances allowing residents to raise a handful of hens in their backyards, with restrictions. They are allowed in unincorporated parts of the county unless regulated by a homeowners’ association.
Pro-chicken activists say that chickens are interesting and humorous pets that produce eggs and poop for compost while eating creepy-crawlies.
Roosters are generally frowned upon in cities.
A former north Whidbey woman had a duck in diapers living in her house, but nowadays the CDC warns against poultry in homes.
The Department of Health offers the following advice for poultry owners:
Always wash hands with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Don’t snuggle or kiss live poultry or allow them in family living spaces.
Don’t eat or drink where poultry live or roam.
Adults should supervise young children when handling live poultry.
This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling paper to The Daily Herald.