Poultry refers to birds that have been domesticated by humans for their egg, meat or feather production and include chickens, turkeys, quails, Guinea fowl, domestic ducks and domestic geese.
In Ohio, there are more than 30 million laying hens and 10 million pullets (hens less than 1 year old), making Ohio the state with the second highest egg production in the country.
Ownership of poultry has increased in recent years as more people become interested in maintaining backyard flocks or owning poultry as pets. Although raising backyard poultry can be a rewarding experience, they can carry diseases that can be spread to people by touching the poultry or their environments. Some of these diseases do not cause the poultry to show any symptoms of disease, while others may cause illness in the animal.
What poultry-related diseases are of concern in Ohio?
Campylobacteriosis is caused by Campylobacter species bacteria. Many chicken flocks are infected with Campylobacter, but the birds show no signs of illness.
Campylobacter can spread easily from bird-to-bird through a common water source or through contact with infected feces. When an infected bird is slaughtered, Campylobacter bacteria can be transferred from the intestines to the meat.
People can become infected through:
- Direct contact with infected poultry
- Contact with raw poultry meat
- Consumption of undercooked poultry meat
Symptoms of campylobacteriosis in humans include diarrhea, cramping, fever and abdominal pain that can last one week; some people also experience bloody diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. People who are immunocompromised are at greater risk for severe disease from campylobacteriosis.
The best way to prevent campylobacteriosis from birds is through hand washing after coming into contact with poultry and their environments, cleaning of kitchen surfaces and utensils that have been in contact with raw poultry meat and thoroughly cooking poultry meat.
Influenza A, novel virus
Novel influenza A viruses infecting birds are also known as avian influenza viruses. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry as well as other bird and animal species.
Wild aquatic birds can be infected with avian influenza A viruses without showing signs of disease. However, avian influenza A viruses are very contagious among birds, and some of these viruses can sicken and even kill certain domesticated bird species including chickens, ducks and turkeys.
Outbreaks of avian influenza in North American poultry and wild birds have occurred in recent years, but the risk to people in the United States is considered low. Avian influenza mainly affects birds, and only rarely infects humans. There are currently two avian influenza viruses with limited circulation in humans: one has recently emerged in Southeast Asia in 2013 (H7N9), and the other first emerged in humans in 2003 (H5N1). Both are found primarily in Asia, and H7N9 has been associated with exposure at live bird markets.
People are unlikely to catch avian influenza from poultry. However, those who handle sick or dead poultry could be at higher risk.
Salmonellosis is a gastrointestinal infection caused by Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella is most commonly transmitted through contaminated food, but animals, including chicks, ducklings and other poultry, can also carry the bacteria and shed it in their feces, infecting humans and other animals.
The bacteria easily contaminate anything in the bird’s environment as well as the bodies of birds, getting trapped in feathers. Poultry that carry Salmonella bacteria often appear healthy and clean.
Humans who become sick with salmonellosis usually have diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain that usually goes away after one week; severe diarrhea and bloodstream infections can occur. Infants and children less than 5 years of age, the elderly and people who are immunocompromised are more likely to become ill if infected with Salmonella.
Important ways to avoid salmonellosis from live poultry include:
- Thorough hand washing
- Keeping live poultry out of homes and facilities with children less than 5 years old
- Preventing people at risk for severe infection from handling or touching poultry
- Keeping food and drinks away from poultry and their environment
- Carefully cleaning poultry habitats