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High egg prices might tempt you to start your own backyard flock, but chickens do come with some health risks.

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With rising egg prices, more people may be buying their own backyard flock of chickens.

But before you build a chicken coop and subscribe to the Chicken Whisperer, health experts have a word of warning: Raising backyard chickens isn’t as easy as bringing home a beautiful new kitten, and raising chickens can come with some serious health risks, too. according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You need to take extra precautions when handling the hens and their eggs.

“Backyard birds specifically can have salmonella germs in their feces and on their bodies, even when they look healthy and clean,” said Dr. Kathy Benedict, a veterinary epidemiologist at the CDC.

The bacteria can live on the bird’s beak, feathers or feet, as well as in its digestive tract, and can spread to areas around where the birds live and onto a person’s clothes, hands or shoes. It can make people around you sick.

Last year, there were several outbreaks of salmonella in several states. Backyard herds have been linked to at least 1,200 people who have fallen ill with salmonella, Benedict said.

At least 225 people were hospitalized and there were two poultry-related deaths in 2022 alone.

“This has been happening for the last few years, at least a thousand cases have been reported each year,” said Benedict. “We expect there to be many more than that that aren’t necessarily reported to public health.”

Chickens can also expose people to campylobacter bacteria.

Neither bacteria normally makes a bird sick, but both can cause diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps in people.

Benedict said people with weakened immune systems, including those with illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, kidney or liver problems, as well as young children, need to be extra careful around backyard chickens, as they can suffer more serious illnesses if they become infected.

If you decide to have your own chickens, the CDC warns parents to prevent their children under 5 from touching the animals. With older children, parents should supervise their interaction. Puppies can be cute, but young children especially are much more likely to get sick with salmonella because their immune systems are still developing.

“Don’t kiss or snuggle your backyard birds, don’t eat or drink near them,” Benedict advised.

Backyard birds and their accouterments should be kept in the yard and outside to keep the bacteria confined where the birds live.

People may also want to keep “chicken coop shoes” – shoes you wear exclusively when interacting with chickens. Be sure to take them off before returning home so you don’t track the bacteria inside.

Always wash your hands after touching the chickens or even keep your hand sanitizer outside where you can disinfect your hands before entering.

As for the handling of the hen’s eggs, people should collect them soon and not leave them in the nest, as they could get dirty or break. Cracked eggs should be thrown away, as a crack can allow bacteria to enter.

After collecting the eggs, if there is dirt, you should use fine sandpaper, brush or cloth to remove the dirt. Don’t wash the eggs with water because the colder water can pull germs into the eggs.

The CDC recommends that people refrigerate their eggs to keep them fresh. Cooler temperatures also slow down the growth of germs.

When cooking eggs, make sure the yolk and white are set to again reduce exposure to bacteria.

“At the CDC, we want to protect people’s health, but we also understand that people have a close relationship with their chickens. We love that animal-human bond,” said Benedict. “There is only one safe way to do this.”