Many families choose to keep birds in their backyards. Backyard birds, or poultry, are increasing in number in urban and suburban areas. People keep backyard poultry for many reasons, including to produce food (fresh eggs or meat), companionship, hobby, exhibition, and education. Backyard poultry most commonly includes domesticated chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, and turkeys. If you own poultry, knowing key prevention practices to ensure health for you, your family, and your flock is important.
Poultry can carry germs that can make people sick, even when appearing healthy. You can get sick if you touch your birds, or bird supplies, and then touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or face. Follow these tips to help prevent you and others who are around poultry from getting sick:
Practice good hand hygiene
- Wash your hands with soap and running water after touching backyard poultry or anything where they live and roam. Wash hands after touching eggs, handling poultry equipment, and being in poultry areas. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not readily available.
Be safe around backyard poultry
- Don’t kiss or snuggle your birds, and don’t touch your face or mouth after handling them.
- Supervise children as they interact with birds. While chicks and ducklings may seem like the perfect size for your child to hold, children have a higher risk for illness due to being more likely to touch their mouth and face. The germs birds carry can also make children sicker. Children younger than five should not touch or hold birds because of this.
- Don’t bring poultry of any age into your home.
- Use a designated pair of shoes that you keep outdoors when caring for poultry.
- Clean poultry supplies, like water or food containers, outdoors.
Handle eggs safely
- Eggshells may be contaminated with germs from poultry droppings or the area where eggs are laid. Always wash your hands before and after collecting eggs or working in poultry areas.
- Maintain clean and dry nest boxes/areas.
- Collect eggs at least once daily and clean them if soiled. You can spot clean or lightly sand stains or small dirty spots with sandpaper, wash quickly with warm water, then immediately wipe dry with paper towel. Do not soak eggs or use detergents not approved for egg cleaning.
- Practice safe handling, cooking, and storing of eggs. Learn more here: https://doh.wa.gov/you-and-your-family/food-safety/eggs
Get Your Flu Vaccine
Speak with your health care provider about getting the seasonal flu vaccine. Seasonal flu vaccines don't prevent infection with bird flu viruses, but they do reduce the risk of getting sick with human and bird flu viruses at the same time. This is especially important for people who may have exposure to sick birds.
Avoid handling sick or dead poultry
- If avoiding contact is not possible, wear an N95 mask and disposable gloves, and wash your hands with soap and water after contact.
- Report sick or dead birds to: the WA State Department of Agriculture's (WSDA) Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056 and your local veterinarian.
Keeping your flock healthy is also good for you and your family. Biosecurity is key to keeping your flock healthy. Biosecurity means the things we can do to keep diseases away from poultry and people.
Biosecurity practices include:
- Keep your distance — Isolate your birds from visitors. Only allow people who take care of your poultry to come in contact with your birds.
- Keep out wildlife – Prevent wild birds and other wildlife from coming into contact with your poultry. This includes having a cover over the top of the area where your birds live and roam.
- Keep it clean — Prevent germs from spreading by cleaning shoes, tools, and equipment in an outdoor sink or using an outdoor hose.
- Don’t haul disease home — New birds should be separated from your flock for 30 days. Birds that have been to fairs or exhibits should be separated from the rest of your flock for two weeks. Clean and disinfect poultry carriers and other equipment that have been to another location where birds are present.
- Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor — Avoid sharing tools and equipment with neighbors.
- Know the warning signs of bird diseases — Watch for early signs of illness in your birds to prevent the spread of disease. These signs may include sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, diarrhea, lack of energy, poor appetite, drop in egg production, or sudden death.
- Report sick birds — Report unusual signs of disease or unexpected bird deaths. Immediately report dead or sick birds to: Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056, and your local veterinarian.
People and poultry can spread germs to one another and become sick. Practicing good hygiene such as hand washing, cleaning equipment and bird cages, and other biosecurity measures can help prevent the spread of disease. More prevention information can be found under Healthy People and Healthy Poultry.
- Even healthy-appearing poultry can shed Salmonella in their droppings that can cause human illness. Shipping birds and their adapting to new locations causes stress. Stressed birds are more likely to shed Salmonella. Salmonella infects people through their eyes, nose or mouth. Washing your hands after contact with poultry or their contaminated environment, and before eating or drinking, helps prevent infection with Salmonella. Persons infected with Salmonella can spread it to other people, for example, if they don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.
- Avian Influenza
- Avian influenza can infect poultry and wild birds (especially waterfowl). Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus strains are extremely infectious and often fatal to birds. They can spread rapidly from flock to flock. Signs of infection in birds include nasal and eye discharge (may be blood-tinged), ruffled feathers, swollen combs or wattles, bluish combs/wattles/legs, tilted head, lack of coordination, lethargy, and sudden death. If you experience any unexplained illness or death in your flock, call the WSDA's Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056. If you see sick or dead wild birds, report them to WA State Fish & Wildlife at bit.ly/sickwildbirds. The risk for human illness from avian influenza is generally low, as is the risk of it spreading it person-to-person. Follow Healthy People tips above to prevent disease.
- Campylobacter is common in poultry and can cause human disease. Infected poultry can shed Campylobacter in their droppings. In people who become infected, diarrhea, cramps and vomiting can occur. Raw or undercooked chicken is one of the most common sources of human infection.
- E. coli
- Poultry naturally have E. coli in their gut, and don’t usually show signs of illness. Although most kinds of E. coli are harmless, others can make people sick. E. coli most often spreads to people and other animals through the feces of infected animals, contaminated food, or a contaminated environment. People can get infected if they don’t wash their hands after touching an animal or its feces, food, toys, habitats (including coops, pens, and cages), or equipment used around these animals.
How to Prepare for a Healthy Family and Flock (PDF)
Your new chicks, ducklings, and other birds can carry germs like Salmonella or bird flu that may make them — and you — sick. Follow these tips to keep your family and your birds safe.
- WA State Department of Agriculture Avian Health Program: 1-800-606-3056
- WADOH | Avian Influenza
- WADOH | Food Safety: Eggs
- WA Department of Fish & Wildlife | Avian Influenza
- Public Health Seattle King County | Backyard Poultry
- CDC | Backyard Poultry (Also see Resources tab on same page)
- CDC | Wild birds
- WA State Department of Agriculture Avian Health Program
- USDA Defend the Flock https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/defend-the-flock-program/dtf-resources
- WDFW - Report Dead Wildlife
- CDC Coops: Episode 1: Doja Chick
- CDC Coops: Episode 2: Chick Inn
- Backyard Poultry Flyer | CDC
- Starting A Flock Checklist | CDC
- Starting A Backyard Flock? | CDC