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“Wash your hands:” Health officials investigate 8 multi-state outbreaks of salmonella linked to chickens

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SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 16: A chicken walks through Heidi Kooy's yard which she calls the 'Itty Bitty Farm in the City' November 16, 2009 in San Francisco, California. Heidi Kooy is one of many Americans that have started to raise chickens in their urban yards to try and save money on food costs during the economic downturn and to find a safer alternative to factory farmed food. Chickens provide eggs and natural fertilizer for gardens while eating the bugs that could harm the crops. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

AMERICAN FORK, Utah — Federal health officials announced Thursday, June 1st they were investigating eight multi-state outbreaks of salmonella infections linked to backyard poultry.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that epidemiologic and laboratory findings linked the outbreaks to contact with live chicks and ducklings from several hatcheries.

The CDC reported 372 people in 47 states had been infected with outbreak strains of salmonella between January 4th, 2017 and May 13th, 2017, with 71 cases resulting in hospitalization.

Utah Department of Health epidemiologist Dallin Peterson said 10 cases had been reported in Utah.

“Here in Utah, there have been a couple of people that also have been hospitalized,” Peterson said.

Health officials said salmonella can exist on the skin of healthy chickens.

“It’s from the feces of the chickens, and so when you touch them and you infect your hands, and then you touch your face or touch food — that’s how people are getting sick,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the problem can be easily remedied with some simple preventative measures, including washing hands and avoiding kisses to poultry-turned-pets.

The CDC also cautioned owners of backyard flocks not to allow chickens inside the house or places where food might be consumed or prepared — like kitchens or outdoor patios.

Federal health officials said children younger than five, adults older than 65 and people with weakened immune systems should avoid handling live poultry because of the increased risk of severe illness.

Eggs should be refrigerated after collection and should be cooked thoroughly, officials said.

Bryce Shelley, an American Fork resident who raises chickens in his backyard for eggs and for weed maintenance, said cleanliness around chickens is common sense.

“We know about salmonella,” Shelley said. “If you’ve been touching the chickens or touching the eggs, wash your hands before you eat anything or stick them in your mouth.”