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Montana state health officials encourage safe handling of live poultry

Posted at 9:18 AM, Mar 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-29 11:18:21-04

HELENA — Health officials are warning Montanans about the dangers of raising backyard chickens following a spike in disease.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) epidemiologist Rachel Hinnenkamp cautions that live poultry can carry germs which can cause people to become ill.

“Healthy poultry, including chicks and ducklings, can carry and shed bacteria such as salmonella or campylobacter without showing any signs of disease,” Hinnenkamp said.  

There was a multi-state outbreak of salmonella cases linked to live poultry in 2023, with more than 1,000 illnesses reported across the country.  Additionally, outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI, or bird flu) have continued to sicken bird populations across the world, including in the US and Montana.

HPAI causes severe disease and high mortality rates among domestic birds such as chickens and turkeys.

“The risk to human health is currently very low, but if you develop flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, or shortness of breath within 10 days of contact with a sick or dead bird, contact your health care provider and inform them of your symptoms and recent exposure,” DPHHS epidemiologist Devon Cozart said.

DPHHS advises washing hands after touching the birds as well as following other safe handling practices.

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water right after handling eggs, backyard poultry, or anything in their environment
  • Avoid touching dead, injured, or sick backyard poultry
  • Supervise children around poultry, and make sure they wash their hands after contact
  • Avoid eating or drinking in areas where poultry live or roam
  • Avoid kissing or snuggling your birds
  • Keep chicks and ducks outside of the home
  • Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of backyard birds, and keep those shoes outside of the house
  • If you must handle a wild bird or sick or dead poultry, take protective measures. Do not handle the animal with bare skin. Wear gloves while handling animals and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact. Respiratory protection (such as a facemask) and eye protection (such as goggles) are also highly recommended. Severe illness in backyard birds should be reported to DOL at (406) 444-1976. Sick or dead wild birds can be reported to your local FWP office or the FWP wildlife health program in Bozeman at (406) 577-7882.

Visit the DPHHS website for more information on general backyard safety tips, and click here for more information on avian influenza in the US and Montana.