Backyard Chicken Coops Can Pose Viral Threat

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay reporter

FRIDAY, March 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Raising chickens in your backyard – a popular trend during the COVID-19 pandemic – carries risks that can return home to roost unwantedly.

It is already well known that poultry can transmit salmonella bacteria to human handlers. But chickens locked in backyards could also be breeding grounds for viruses that pose an even greater threat to public health, according to Sonia Hernandez, professor of wildlife diseases at the University of Georgia in Athens. .

“As a researcher who studies the movement of pathogens along different groups, I see backyard chickens as a potential interface where pathogens can spread to wild birds, or vice versa, and even to humans.” Hernandez said in a college press release.

“Owners should seek medical information and care for their animals to minimize these risks,” she said.

The greatest threat comes from the potential of domestic chickens as a reservoir for mutations in the so-called avian flu (“avian flu”). These viruses can infect commercially produced poultry and devastate these industries. But humans could also be directly affected.

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“Historically, most highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses only affected chickens in commercial operations,” Hernandez said, “but recently we’ve seen that they can – in rare cases – move into humans, and there are more and more reports that it affects wild bird backyard chickens. “

Bird flu outbreaks could spread to humans, which is on the minds of scientists in a year dominated by a global coronavirus pandemic. Most experts believe SARS-CoV-2 originated from an animal-to-human “contagion” event that took place somewhere in China.

“People have to recognize that they have to take some responsibility for their health and that of their animals,” Hernandez said. “In addition, we are currently living in a pandemic due to a contagion event, outright.”

Hernandez reminded the public that in addition to the potential threat of viruses, chickens can easily transmit salmonella to humans.

“It can become especially dangerous if you mix small chickens with small people – young chickens that lose a lot of salmonella with young children who don’t have best hygienic practices,” she says.

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Most people who get an infection with salmonella have symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps, but about 26,500 Americans are hospitalized with these infections and 420 die each year.

Hernandez said health officials are trying to stay on top of salmonella in backyard chickens because they saw an explosion of salmonellosis as chicken farming gained popularity.

Hernandez co-authored an article with Andrea Ayala, postdoctoral researcher at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, on how diseases can be spread between chickens and wild birds. Recently published in the journal Frontiers of veterinary science, he described how backyard chicken owners can keep their flocks, wild birds and themselves safe.

The strategies include placing backyard chicken feeders where only the chickens can reach them and using mesh to prevent wild birds from coming into contact with the chickens and their barns. The authors also recommend getting rid of wild bird feeders and eliminating contaminated water sources, insects and rodents. They said it was also important to maintain good hygiene, such as changing shoes when visiting different herds and limiting visitors.

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In the press release, Ayala pointed out that, “As backyard chickens become more common, interactions between wild birds and backyard chickens are also likely to increase. Wild birds are attracted to it. through food, water, and shelter, and backyard chickens provide all three. “

More information

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on backyard poultry.

SOURCE: University of Georgia, press release, March 2, 2021

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