A young chicken and its caretaker in Vermont. Photo by Ambient Photography via Kathy Pintair

As spring arrives in Vermont, welcoming a long-awaited new season of life as the price of eggs has begun to skyrocket, Vermonters may have more than one reason this year to get into chick raising. backyard.

“Raising poultry like chicks, ducklings and goslings in your backyard can provide many benefits, such as fresh eggs, opportunities to connect with nature and an education for children and families,” said the Dr. Natalie Kwit, Vermont Public Health Veterinarian. Vermont Department of Health press release. “But it’s very important to take steps to help minimize the spread of disease.”

According to health officials, chickens can pose risks to human health, sometimes spreading harmful bacteria such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli through their meat or eggs, or spreading viruses such as bird flu, also known as bird flu.

Chickens can pose human health risks, sometimes spreading harmful bacteria such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli through their meat or eggs. Photo by Ambient Photography via Kathy Pintair

As families begin to take in new herds this year, officials say it’s important to know how to do so safely.

Infected birds can transmit bird flu viruses through their saliva, mucus and feces, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human infection with such viruses, although rare, can occur if these substances are introduced into the human body through a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, or by inhalation.

“The severity of illness in humans due to avian influenza virus infections ranges from no symptoms or mild illness to severe illness resulting in death,” the federal agency reported.

As families begin to take in new herds this year, officials say it’s important to know how to do so safely. Photo by Ambient Photography via Kathy Pintair

Poultry bacteria and viruses are most likely to cause serious illness in people with weakened immune systems, the elderly and children under 5, Kwit said.

To prevent the spread of disease from backyard chickens, the Vermont Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control offer a number of recommendations: supervise children around poultry, avoid touching the face or mouth after handling poultry or eggs, and ensure that anyone handling poultry or eggs washes their hands thoroughly afterwards.

“It’s really helpful to have adults supervising children, especially young children, on handwashing,” Kwit said, because children are generally “not as good at hand hygiene as adults and put their hands in their mouths more often.

The Department of Health also recommends thorough and regular cleaning of chicken coops and equipment, and keeping all equipment used to care for poultry – including the shoes that people wear near the chicken coop – out of the way. outside the home and away from areas where human food is prepared. Equipment such as cages and food or water containers should always be cleaned outdoors with a hose, rather than in a kitchen sink or tub indoors.

Photo by Ambient Photography via Kathy Pintair

“One of the main purposes for which people keep backyard flocks is to have fresh eggs,” Kwit said, “and there are some ways to minimize the risk of exposure to harmful bacteria by handling these eggs and cooking with them”.

Frequent cleaning of chicken coops and regular egg collection help ensure that bacteria doesn’t build up on eggshells over time, Kwit said. When preparing eggs for eating, do not wash the eggs with water, as bacteria can sometimes enter the eggs through their porous shells, but instead use a brush to gently sweep the debris from the eggs. Refrigerating eggs and cooking them thoroughly are other ways to minimize the risk of bacterial infection, she said.

“If you keep your animals healthy, you also keep the people who own them healthy,” Kwit said.

Vermont Agriculture, Food and Markets Agency officials say one of the best ways to keep poultry healthy is to prevent contact between chickens and wild waterfowl, like ducks, which are often carriers of bird flu.

“Anyone involved in poultry production – from small backyard cooperatives to large commercial producers – should review their biosecurity plans and activities to ensure the health of their birds,” agricultural agency officials said.

Raising chickens “is really a fantastic thing — and more popular these days, especially in small states like ours — that can really connect people with the environment,” Kwit said, “We just want people do it safely.”

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