The Eastern Shore Health District encourages the therapeutic value of animals in people’s lives. Many of us who work in public health also share our lives with a variety of animals, just like other families in our community. In order to create healthier relationships with animals, we would like to share information that can help your family make wise choices and stay healthy.
From the Centers For Disease Control (CDC), studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Some of the health benefits of having a pet include:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased cholesterol levels
- Decreased triglyceride levels
- Decreased feelings of loneliness
- Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
- Increased opportunities for socialization
The first topic in what will be a series of topics titled “Healthy Pets Healthy People” is about one of the more popular non-traditional pets – the backyard flock. Backyard flocks can provide the health benefits of pet ownership listed above, as well as provide families with fresh eggs to eat, share, or sell. On the other hand, direct contact with poultry (chickens, ducks, geese, and other fowl) also may increase exposure to Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria*. Symptoms of illnesses caused by these bacteria are typically fever, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and dehydration. If you or one of your family members develops symptoms, your doctor can test you for infection and recommend treatment to prevent severe complications. A nurse from the health department will also follow up with you in order to rule out the risk of illness to other people. Outbreaks in the past have been associated with baby chicks from a common supplier, for example. While experiencing symptoms healthcare workers, daycare workers or attendees, and food handlers must stay home from work in order to prevent the spread of infection to others.
Here are recommendations to keep your family members healthy while still enjoying and sharing the benefits of your flock.
- Do not allow poultry inside your home.
- Remove shoes and outer clothes that may have gotten dirty while tending to your flock before you enter your home – especially if infants or toddlers live with you.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after
- handling bird food and water dishes or equipment
- cleaning bird coops, cages or perches
- handling eggs
- Always wash your hands before before eating, drinking, or preparing food for your family to eat.
- Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol near the bird’s enclosure to encourage guests and children to clean their hands after handling birds if soap and water are not nearby.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke while tending to the flock.
- Do not snuggle, kiss, or touch your mouth to live poultry or chicks.
- Do not give live baby chicks and ducklings to young children as gifts.
- If any of your backyard poultry appear to be ill, consult your veterinarian.
For more information about healthy poultry keeping, please visit the CDC Healthy Pet Health People page here: https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/farm-animals/backyard-poultry.html
If you have any questions about poultry health, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is the best resource: http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/index.shtml
To learn more about protecting your backyard flock from disease (which in turn protects you and your family) a good resource is https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian-influenza-disease/birdbiosecurity
*Poultry is not the only source of Salmonella and Campylobacter infection. For more information visit: https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/ and https://www.cdc.gov/campylobacter/
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