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Backyard Poultry

The practice of raising backyard poultry (chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, and turkeys) is not a new concept however in recent years has become more popular. It is important for owners to be aware that backyard poultry can carry germs that can lead to serious illness in people, such as Campylobacter, Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella.  Illnesses can range from mild to severe depending on the type of infection and the health status of the person.

Pregnant women, those with a weakened immune system, children under the age of 5 and adults over the age of 65 are at a greater risk of serious illnesses from these germs therefore they should not handle the poultry or come in contact with any surface or object in contact with the birds.

How to stay healthy around backyard poultry?

Hand Washing

  • Wash hands with soap and running water before and after touching backyard poultry or anything in the area where they live or roam. This includes:
    •  After handling eggs
    • After handling food or water containers or other equipment used for poultry
    • After touching chicken feces, feed, and the coop/enclosure
  • Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
  • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. You can also put hand sanitizer near your coop for easy access.
  • Do not feed birds directly from your hands.

Safe Handling

  • Do not kiss backyard poultry or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth.
  • Do not bring chickens into your home.
  • Do not eat or drink in areas where poultry live or roam.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for poultry, such as cages or food and water containers.
  • Change into clothes, shoes and gloves used ONLY for handling chickens, cleaning and working outside on the enclosure/coop.
  • Keep shoes and clothes used for urban farming outdoors.
  • Monitor bird’s health to make sure they are healthy. Immediately remove any sick and/or dead bird from the enclosure.
  • Seek medical attention for sick birds as soon as possible.

Chickens and Young Children

  • Children under the age of 5 should not handle chicks, chickens or other poultry.
  • Always supervise children when they are playing with poultry or helping with the enclosure/coop.
  • Do not let children snuggle and kiss birds.
  • Help children with proper hand washing after contact with chickens or the enclosure/coop.

Handle Eggs Safely

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling eggs.
  • Eggs should be collected two to three times a day.
  • Throw out eggs that are broken or are cracked. 
  • Eggs that are dirty can be carefully cleaned with fine sandpaper, a brush, or a cloth.
  • Do not wash warm, fresh eggs because colder water can pull bacteria that is on the surface of the eggshell into the egg.
  • Eggs should be stored in the refrigerator after collection.
  • Wash and disinfect surfaces the eggs come in contact with such as kitchen countertops.
  • Eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 74°C or hotter. Raw and undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella or other bacteria that can make you sick.

Avian Flu – What You Need to Know

The Avian Influenza (“bird flu”) virus infects domestic poultry and wild birds such as geese, ducks, and shore birds. This is “bird flu” season and there have been several reports of Avian Influenza in wild and commercial poultry settings across Ontario, and we have had one infected Canada goose in our area. The Province of Ontario is working with local, other provincial, federal, and international authorities to monitor and respond to situations as they arise.

This virus does not easily cross from birds to humans, and the current strain of the virus has been listed as lower than normal concern for spread to people. The exact mode of transmission from birds to people is not known. Most human cases of avian influenza have been traced to direct contact with live or dead infected poultry or their droppings. High risk activities include caring for diseased birds, dressing birds that died from the disease, consuming duck’s blood or possibly undercooked poultry, and handling birds involved in cockfighting. The handling of dead birds is considered a lower risk activity and has not been implicated in transmission of the virus to date. There is no evidence to suggest that properly cooked game birds are a source of avian influenza infection for people.

Please call Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at 1-800-567-2033 to report the finding of sick or dead wild birds. It is very important that people avoid handling live or dead wild birds. If contact with wild birds is unavoidable, wear gloves or use a doubled plastic bag and avoid contact with blood, body fluids and feces. You should then wash your hands with soap and warm water.

If you have handled a sick wildlife bird or poultry then watch for symptoms of Avian Influenza that can range from very mild to severe. It is important to tell your doctor if you have any of these signs and if you have been in close contact with poultry or wild birds in the past 10 days;

  • Fever , cough, sore throat , runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle and/or body aches, headache, tiredness
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or seizures

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