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CDC Implicates Backyard Flocks in Salmonella Outbreaks


CDC issued an outbreak advisory on July 23rd confirming ongoing outbreaks of salmonellosis attributed to contact with backyard chickens and ducks. The epidemiologic significance of backyard chickens has been clearly established with regard to salmonellosis acquired in the home setting other than from contaminated food. Effectively backyard chickens have replaced pet turtles as the major source of salmonellosis for children which pertained prior to the 1975 FDA ban on interstate shipment.


Since June 21st, database systems including FoodNet have recorded 112 cases of salmonellosis in 44 states requiring 34 hospitalizations.  Salmonella isolates included S. Seftenberg, S. Mondevideo, S. Infantis, S. Enteritidis, S. Indiana and S. Litchfield. There is obvious concern that whole genome sequencing demonstrated genes coding for drug resistance against a wide range of commonly used antibiotics in 22 isolates assayed.


One-hundred of 138 patients reported contact with chicks or ducklings in the week before onset of illness. It is significant that a quarter of the patients comprised children under 5 years of age Chicks and in a few instances ducklings are presumed to be the vehicles of infection and were purchased from feed supply stores, small hatcheries or were supplied by friends. 


 EGG-NEWS takes extreme exception to the fatuous comments by self-styled “chicken doctor” Rinder Myers of Tulsa, OK.  A comment that the “risks of backyard chickens are quite minimal” are refuted by data.  Myers is entitled to her opinions but not to her facts.  Denoting an absence of knowledge concerning basic microbiology and epidemiology Myers doubled down noting, “Lack of sunlight, lack of ventilation and cleanliness are huge risks for Salmonella and you have these things in the factory setting.”


The commercial U.S. egg-production industry operates in accordance with the National Poultry Improvement Program concerning prevention of vertically transmitted Salmonella infection.  In addition the industry conforms to the 2010 FDA Final Rule on Salmonella Prevention and operates in accordance with state egg quality assurance programs and UEP and company standard operating procedures where applicable. In most cases these requirements are stricter than federal and state regulations.


There has not been a case of Salmonella Enteritidis associated with commercially produced and processed eggs since 2010.  A recent outbreak of Salmonella Braenderup attributed to a specific egg complex involved 57 cases over six months notwithstanding the fact that the alleged source of infection distributed 2.4 million eggs daily to a population exceeding 25 million consumers. This represents an infinitesimally minute attack rate.  In contrast, outbreaks of salmonellosis have been attributed to small-scale farms operating under the FDA requirement which applies to flocks over 3,000 hens.


It is regrettable that media including station KTUL-TV offer a megaphone to people with a vested interest in promoting backyard chickens to disseminate misinformation.  KTUL and other mainstream media would be well advised to consult with state epidemiologists and local public health professionals for commentary on diseases transmitted from livestock to humans and on foodborne infections before allowing ill-informed or at worse venal spokespersons to air blatantly false opinions.