We seem to be moving at the speed of light these days. Between changes in government, global concerns, and trade there is A LOT for the news agencies to cover. Yet somehow with all of the turmoil CNN finds time to pick on our friends, the backyard flock.
They reported a story on an salmonella outbreak and mentioned how cuddling your backyard flock can make you sick. As the mother of 16 hens and the owner of the only therapy rooster in the state I was VERY concerned. The term “outbreak” has scary implications and I wanted to make sure my birds weren’t in any danger, so I did some research and was surprised and at what I found.
I ran a quick Google search on the term “Outbreak” and this is what came back:
the sudden or violent start of something unwelcome, such as war, disease, etc.
“the outbreak of World War II”
It sounds pretty awful right? This is what I associated the term with when I read the article as well. This is what the CDC defines as an “outbreak”
The CDC defines an Outbreak as when 2 or more people get sick from the same source
There is a huge difference in the two definitions. They must be reporting outbreaks like crazy when school starts because my kids bring home a cold and share it with the family nearly every year. When I realized how the loosely the term was used it peaked my interest…so I did a bit more digging. I wanted to know if the risk of getting salmonella from my birds was greater than the risk of getting sick from eating out, or other activities. The statistics below are extremely conservative . I have my resources cited, and took the most conservative route possible.
There is an average of 124M households in the United States. It’s been determined that between 1 & 2 percent of these households own a backyard flock. So if we do the math that gives us about 1.24 million families who own chickens using the more conservative figure. The CDC outbreak consisted of 372 cases in the US. This translates to .0003 or .03% of the urban chicken population.
The CDC reported a similar outbreak of salmonella from tiny turtles. The difference is that 100% of the tiny turtle owners reported being ill compared to .03%.
Since Salmonella seems to be the latest craze, I thought I would pull some figures on how many people got it from sources other than animals. Here’s the numbers:
Cases reported per year – 1 MILLION (380 deaths)
US POPULATION – 326 MILLION
That is 1 out of every 326 people are affected by Salmonella each year. This means we are nearly 8 times more likely to get salmonella from another source then from our backyard flock.
Backyard Flock Facts
While the folks at CNN happily spread the panic about backyard flocks they conveniently forgot to include other facts about urban homesteading:
- Chickens help improve the quality of life for the elderly
- Chickens ease anxiety and have been utilized for trauma victims and PTSD disorders
- Chickens have been documented to help children with Autism and Asbergers
- Eggs from backyard flocks are healthier to eat and great for your skin and our backyard flock are more than happy to share
- They control pests naturally and are the best kept secret to a healthy, green lawn
Comparing Backyard Flocks with Other Family Friends
Because of my son’s allergies I did not have a choice when we got our birds, I had to rehome my two kitties, but I wondered how they compare as pets from a contaminant perpective….the results are interesting!
Over 12,000 people will be diagnosed with Cat Scratch Fever (yes it’s a disease!) compare that to the OUTBREAK of 372 cases
The Campylobacter infection is more infectious than salmonella and there are over 10,000 confirmed cases. One of the causes of this illness is puppies licking the faces of kids. The bacteria lives in the intestinal tract of dogs and cats, and while not harmful to them, it causes salmonella-like symptoms in humans. (again compare this to 372 cases from our backyard flock).
We still love our family pets, whether they are dog, cat, bird or “other”. The lesson here is simple. There is a risk with ALL pets, but they are easily mitigated with common sense.
· Keeps hands clean
· Keep sanitizer nearby (or better yet get some Eucalyptus, Aloe, Tea Tree and make your own!)
· When cleaning up after your pet, wear different shoes than you wear in the house
If you are own a backyard flock and are concerned, you can have your pets tested easily – take a stool sample to your local vet and they can tell you for less than $45.00 if you have a problem. I had my birds tested and am happy to say they are clean as a whistle.
My conclusion – Backyard chickens have a SIGNIFICANTLY lower risk of spreading illness than other pets, and yet, it seems that every year we have “outbreaks” and articles. I’m keeping my birds, and will continue to hug them, bathe and blow dry them and give them cherry tomatoes. Chicken care, like any other pet care requires common sense. To CNN – don’t you have something more important to be reporting on? To the CDC– you may want to modify your term OUTBREAK and focus more on educating people than scaring them.