ATLANTA, July 21 (UPI) -- Owners of pet chickens are being warned by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to exercise caution in handling and interacting with the animals after a series of salmonella outbreaks.
The CDC is investigating eight salmonella outbreaks linked to backyard chickens, which have made 611 people in 45 states sick during the last six months.
The series of outbreaks started in early January and has grown significantly since, with 287 new salmonella cases in 10 more states identified in just the last month, leading CDC officials to warn there will likely be more cases.
Reported cases of salmonella have occurred in people ranging in age from 1 to 93, 52 percent of whom are women. So far, 28 percent of those confirmed to have salmonella have been hospitalized and one death was reported, though it was not thought to be connected to a chicken.
Researchers at the agency say 88 percent of people interviewed reported contact with live poultry at some point in the week before they got sick, with samples from live chickens and places they live confirmed to have at least four strains of salmonella.
Chicken owners have reported buying their backyard flocks from suppliers that include feed stores, the internet and friends.
"Regardless of where they were purchased, all live poultry can carry Salmonella bacteria, even if they look healthy and clean," the CDC said in a press release. "These outbreaks are a reminder to follow steps to enjoy your backyard flock and keep your family healthy."
The agency recommends people wash their hands immediately after handling chickens and or anything in the areas they live and roam, keeping children away from chickens without adult supervision and not allowing their flocks to live inside the house.
"These outbreaks are expected to continue for the next several months since flock owners might be unaware of the risk of Salmonella infection from live poultry or participate in risky behaviors that can result in infection," CDC officials said.