Wanting to get some chickens or other poultry but also been asking yourself the question ‘do chickens carry diseases?’ We have done the research for you and found the 5 most common diseases chickens and other poultry may carry and what you can do to reduce the risk of transmission to yourself and your family.
Raising poultry such as chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl and turkeys is a highly rewarding experience. Not only do you get fresh eggs but poultry can be great pets to have around the home. Keeping chickens and other poultry can be straightforward and relatively low maintenance, however poultry owners need to be aware that poultry can potentially carry harmful pathogens that can make humans sick.
The pathogens can cause a variety of illnesses in humans, from minor gastrointestinal upset to serious illnesses that could cause death. One of the easiest ways to prevent becoming sick from poultry related pathogens, is to wash your hands thoroughly right after touching poultry or any associated object in their living or roaming quarters.
Despite whether you have just acquired your first chicken or you are an experienced breeder, you should know the risks about potential pathogens that chickens and other poultry may carry and the ways to prevent infection and disease.
What this article covers
This is a long article, so below are some quick links. Click any of them to go straight to that section – or just carry on reading for the full guide!
Do Chickens Carry Diseases? How Can Humans Get Sick From Chickens and Other Poultry?
Poultry such as chickens and other domestically kept birds may have bacteria or pathogens in their faeces (poop) or on their body parts – even when they appear clean.
These can then easily spread from the birds to coops, plants and soil in the inhabited environment and also to the hands, shoes and clothing of those who are caring for the chickens or other poultry.
Humans can contract bacteria, viruses and pathogens when they put their hands or other objects that have been in contact with the birds or their environment in or around their mouth. Young children are especially at risk for illness because they are more likely to put their fingers into their mouths.
It is very important to wash your hands immediately after touching poultry or any other materials the poultry have had contact with due to the bacteria, viruses and pathogens on your hands being easily spread and therefore potentially resulting in infection.
5 Most Common Types of Diseases Chickens and Other Poultry Can Carry
Campylobacter are bacteria that can make humans and animals sick with a disease called campylobacteriosis.
Campylobacter most often spread to animals and humans through the faeces of infected animals, contaminated food or the environment. Humans can get infected if they don’t wash their hands after touching an animal or associated equipment and objects used around these animals.
Anyone can get a Campylobacter infection, however children under 5 years old, adults over 65 years old and those with weakened immune systems are most likely to develop severe illness.
Poultry usually don’t show signs of Campylobacter infection. They can be carriers without any obvious signs.
Human symptoms of Campylobacter infection can be diarrhea (often bloody), fever and stomach cramps. The diarrhea may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Symptoms generally start within 2–5 days after infection and last about 1 week.
2. Bird Flu (Avian Influenza)
Avian influenza (also known as ‘bird flu’), is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. On rare occasions avian influenza virus can infect humans. Not all influenza viruses found in birds will cause human infections.
Influenza viruses are generally highly contagious. Humans get infected through contact with saliva, nasal secretions and faecal matter from infected birds. It is also possible to become infected through contact with virus-contaminated surfaces and objects.
It is rare for avian influenza to spread to humans. Again it is the children younger than 5 years old, pregnant people, adults over 65 years old and people with weakened immune systems who are at a higher risk for serious complications from infection.
Chickens and poultry can be infected with avian influenza without showing any symptoms. Some signs that poultry may be infected can range from decreased egg production to very high death rates in a flock.
Humans who become infected with avian influenza viruses can have symptoms similar to human influenza viruses, such as fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, and coughing. They may also have red eyes, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.
3. E. coli (Escherichia coli)
E. coli are bacteria found in the environment, foods and intestines of people and animals. Most types of E. coli are harmless but some types can make humans sick.
E. coli most often spreads to humans through the faeces of infected animals, contaminated food or environmental contact. Humans can get infected if they don’t practice hand washing after touching poultry or objects associated with their living environment.
Anyone can get sick from E. coli, but children below 5 years old, adults over 65 years old and humans with weakened immune systems are most likely to get severely ill.
Poultry naturally have E. coli in their gut and don’t usually generally show signs of illness. Even when looking clean and healthy they can still be carriers of the bacteria.
Symptoms of E. Coli infection depend on the kind of E. coli present. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infection is one of the most commonly diagnosed E. coli infections in the United States. Most people infected with STEC experience severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting.
Symptoms usually start within 3–4 days after ingesting the bacteria and persist for 5-7 days. Some people may develop kidney failure (hemolytic uremic syndrome, also called HUS) and would then require hospitalization.
Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by a fungus found in the environment, particularly in soil that contains large amounts of bird and bat droppings.
Humans can get histoplasmosis by breathing in the microscopic fungus from the environment.
Anyone can get histoplasmosis, however children below 5 years old, adults over 55 years old and people with weakened immune systems are most likely to get severe illness.
Although their faeces can result in the fungal growth causing histoplasmosis, poultry do not get sick from histoplasmosis.
Most humans also don’t generally get sick from histoplasmosis. Those that do generally have symptoms that appear within 3-17 days of exposure. Symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, chills, headache, chest pain and body aches.
Salmonella infections are becoming more common. This bacterial infection can occur after handling chickens or other poultry.
Anyone can contract Salmonella and develop illness, however children under 5 years old, adults over 65 years old and those with weakened immune systems are most likely to get severely ill.
Chickens and other poultry generally don’t show any signs of Salmonella infection. Even when looking clean and healthy they can still be infected and act as carriers of the bacteria.
Most humans infected with Salmonella will have diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Symptoms usually start 6 hours to 6 days after swallowing the bacteria. Most people recover without treatment after 4 to 7 days.
Ways to Reduce Risk of Disease from Chickens and Other Poultry
Wash your hands
- Wash your hands with soap and running water after touching poultry or anything in the environment where they reside. Including:
- After egg collection
- After handling food or any other equipment used for poultry
- After being near poultry even if you did not touch the birds
- Adults should always supervise handwashing for young children.
- Ensure you use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not immediately available. Hand sanitizer can also be placed near the coop for easy access.
Utilize proper hygiene practices when handling poultry
- Don’t kiss chickens or other poultry!
- If you cuddle them, ensure your clothing is changed straight afterwards and stored separately for washing.
- Don’t let your poultry inside the house.
- Don’t eat or drink in areas where poultry live or move about.
- Have a particular pair of shoes that are worn to the areas that the poultry reside and make sure they do not get worn inside your own house.
- Regularly clean equipment and other materials used to raise or care for poultry such as coops and feeders.
Handle chicken eggs safely
Eggshells can become contaminated with Salmonella and other bacteria from chicken faeces. Ensure the following measures are taken when handling eggs:
- Always wash your hands with soap and running water after handling eggs.
- Maintain the chicken coop to a high standard of cleanliness.
- Collect eggs everyday.
- If any eggshells are cracked. Ensure they are thrown away. Broken eggshells allow for the penetration of bacteria.
- Eggs with dirt of faeces on them should be gently cleaned with water and a soft cloth.
- Refrigerate eggs after collection to slow bacterial growth.
- Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm. Egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) or hotter. Raw and undercooked eggs can contain Salmonella bacteria that can cause illness.
Overall keeping chickens and other poultry is typically a straightforward experience. If you ensure your poultry is kept in a clean and hygienic environment and that you and your family follow the appropriate hygiene practices, you should not be too concerned about any potential diseases that chickens and other poultry may carry. Make sure you enjoy your experience in raising chickens but practice proper hygiene and educate your children along the way, to ensure the whole family stays healthy.
Chicken Care Shopping List
We have put together a shopping list below to help ensure your chickens are kept in optimal condition that will assist in keeping your flock free of serious diseases.
- Chicken coop
- Wood shavings bale
- Nesting Box
- Layer pellets
- Chicken scratch/grain
- Shell grit
- Chicken Safe Disinfectant
- Coop cleaner
- Chicken dust
- Calcium supplement
Curious to know which are the best egg laying chickens? Read our guide here.