A big salmonella outbreak in the US has infected at least 181 people in 40 states. And it's been caused, in part, by people getting a little too close to their live poultry — specifically, kissing and cuddling chicks, chickens, ducks, and ducklings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Eighty-six percent of the 95 ill people who were interviewed reported contact with live poultry in the week before their illness began ... Many ill people in these outbreaks reported bringing the live poultry into their homes, and others reported kissing or cuddling with the live poultry. These behaviors increase a person’s risk of a salmonella infection."
The CDC estimates that salmonella bacteria cause about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths each year in the US. In people, salmonella brings on diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Most people get better without treatment, but the bacteria can cause other complications leading to hospitalization and even death.
Most people get salmonella by eating or handling infected foods, such as raw chicken, or coming into contact with live animals that are carrying the bacteria.
We don't know whether the present outbreak has anything to do with the trend toward keeping chickens as pets that has emerged in the US in recent years.
If you're not someone who keeps live chickens around, the CDC has these tips for avoiding salmonella while preparing food (and also includes a warning about live reptiles):
Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, don't hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants or immunocompromised persons.
Don't work with raw poultry or meat, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding prevents salmonellosis and many other health problems.