Lorain, Geauga and Ashtabula counties reported at least 5 of Ohio's 32 salmonella outbreaks so far this year, which health officials have linked to exposure to live poultry in backyard flocks.
So-called “backyard chicken coops” have become increasingly common in recent years, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, leading to a record number of illnesses in 2016 that were linked to contact with backyard poultry.
Health Commissioner David Covell of the Lorain County General Health District confirmed that there had been three cases of salmonella so far this year in Lorain County. Each case was connected to direct contact with live chickens.
Covell said that the bacteria usually produces gastrointestinal illness for a few days.
“But when it hits someone who has is an elderly person or someone who’s immune compromised or a young child, it can be very severe,” he said.
Covell said that as a trend toward farm fresh eggs at home has grown in recent years, so have the opportunities for illness to develop.
“You’re seeing more of these types of diseases and you can expect that,” he said.
It’s a topic that was the center of debate in the city of Lorain in September, when Mayor Chase Ritenauer used his first veto ever to stop a measure that would have legalized backyard chickens in Lorain.
At the time, he cited health concerns as one of his objections.
“It certainly confirmed some of my fears,” Ritenauer told News 5, after learning of the recent cases in Lorain County.
“Disease can spread, poultry ought to the held by people who know what they’re doing and have to understand certain rules and regulations,” he said.
In cities where backyard chickens are legal, Covell said it’s crucial that owners realize the need to wash their hands after any contact with live poultry.
Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
Children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65 years and people with weakened immune systems should not handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry.
The CDC also said not to “snuggle or kiss the birds.”