May 2018
From the State Vet's Office

Never a Bad Time to Give Good Advice

This article may have been a bit timelier if I had written it for the March issue. But it’s kind of like what they say about planting a tree. The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. The second-best time is today. It would have been good to have put this information in front of you before Easter when people often buy baby chicks, ducks and rabbits.

However, there are times this information could come in handy all year. And next Easter, you can just pull out your old AFC Cooperative Farming News from May 2018 and be completely up-to-date on what I have to say about salmonella and public health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths per year in the United States. About a million of those cases are traced back to food sources. That leaves about 200,000 coming from somewhere else.

You don’t have to take my word for it. It’s right there on their website.

If you are reading this at the supper table, you may want to put it down and finish it after you get through eating.

If you are not familiar with salmonella, it is bacteria that generally live in the intestinal tract of mammals, birds and reptiles. I’m not sure about fish.

Anyway, even when a person contracts a salmonella infection from a pulled pork barbecue, it originated in some gut somewhere. It is a fecal-oral infection, even if it does make a quick stop in grandma’s chicken salad before giving you a horrible case of diarrhea, fever, chills and let me mention diarrhea again.

I felt like it would be a good idea to put out information on salmonella after talking to Dr. Dee Jones, our Alabama State Public Health Veterinarian, about salmonella outbreaks associated with backyard poultry. According the Alabama Department of Public Health, there were 10 multistate outbreaks of salmonellosis linked to backyard poultry flocks. This represented the largest number of illnesses linked to contact with backyard poultry ever recorded. There were 1,120 cases reported from 48 states. Over a quarter of those affected were children under 5. Of those cases, 29 percent were hospitalized, and one died.

I do want to address those who raise backyard poultry. I would think that would be the majority of you reading this article. I know I have had backyard poultry, and I assume most everyone else does at one time or another.

While it is unlikely you can be completely free of any threat of salmonella, let me suggest that you take advantage of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Poultry Improvement Plan program. There is no charge to the backyard poultry producer and the flock is tested for Salmonella pullorum, as well as monitored for avian influenza. The NPIP program is administered by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries with the help of our USDA, Veterinary Service colleagues. The program requires an on-farm blood test of a portion of the flock, or the entire flock if it is very small.

Over the past few years, we have seen a huge increase in the number of backyard poultry producers. I think that is great and, as I said, I have had my own backyard birds. However, I do want to make it clear: I believe commercial poultry and store-bought table eggs are as safe as they can possibly be. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service are constantly working to reduce the risk of salmonella, campylobacter and other organisms causing food-borne illnesses. Those in the backyard poultry industry are not under those regulations so need to try to minimize salmonella and other harmful organisms in our flocks.

One important step in keeping our flocks healthy is to buy from hatcheries that are part of the NPIP program. Feed stores, mail-order outlets and other places where baby chicks can be purchased should be able to provide information about their baby chicks such as if they are part of the NPIP program and have been vaccinated for Marek’s disease, and about mycoplasma monitoring. If you are purchasing from a source that cannot provide that information, my suggestion is to look for another source.

Now let me get back to the subjects of children, Easter, baby chicks and ducks, and a bunch of other sort-of-related areas. An article in the April 2015 National Geographic magazine quoted a CDC epidemiologist as saying that salmonella outbreaks are seasonal and begin to increase in the spring, and they are on high alert beginning right after Easter.

When looking at baby ducks and chicks, it is difficult to believe they could be potentially dangerous. We tend to not have a problem thinking of alligators as dangerous but we have less than four deaths per year from alligator attacks. Some years we don’t have any. With 450 deaths per year from salmonella and most of those being children, I wonder if that makes baby chicks theoretically more dangerous than alligators. I am just saying we need to know the potential risks when we mix young children and baby chicks or ducks. And while the statistics are probably in your favor, use caution when allowing children to pet or hold these young animals. I suspect statistics are not relevant to the parent whose kid ends up in the hospital.

The ADPH has published some steps to protect against getting sick from contact with poultry. I hope I am not going to get in trouble for borrowing the information from them. Here it is:

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching live poultry or products, or cleaning equipment used for live poultry care.

Do not snuggle or kiss baby chicks, ducklings or other live poultry.

Do not let live poultry live inside the residence or stay where foods are prepared, served or stored.

Do not let children under 5 years handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry without adult supervision.

Leave shoes and clothes outside after dealing with backyard flocks, especially if they come in contact with droppings.

Purchase poultry from hatcheries participating in the USDA-NPIP, a program committed to reducing salmonella infection in baby poultry while in hatcheries.

One last interesting fact: In 2009, the Disney movie "The Princess and the Frog" was released. Fifty young children were hospitalized and one died from salmonellosis, caught by kissing frogs.


I just want us to be cautious, aware and use common sense to keep our kids healthy … including us kids in our 50s.


Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama. You can contact him at 334-240-7253.