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Illness warning for backyard chicken owners

By Morgan Dyer

Greater Shepparton chicken owners are being reminded to practise safe hygiene when handling chickens after a number of salmonella enteritidis cases were reported in Victoria.

The Department of Health and Human Services is working closely with Agriculture Victoria to investigate nine cases of salmonella enteritidis illness notified over the past two months — five of them in people keeping backyard chickens.

The five had contact with chickens or ate eggs from household flocks.

Victoria’s deputy chief health officer Angie Bone said people were at risk of becoming infected if they didn't wash their hands thoroughly after handling chickens or coming into contact with their environment, or if they eat raw or under-cooked eggs.

“Keeping chickens as pets can be a rewarding experience, especially for children,” Dr Bone said.

“However, poultry can carry germs such as salmonella, even when they appear healthy and clean.

“It can be a serious infection especially in infants, the elderly and those with medical conditions which weaken their immune system.”

Dr Bone said to avoid gastroenteritis from backyard eggs, people should discard cracked, damaged or heavily soiled eggs and clean lightly soiled eggs with a dry cloth or a tissue.

“People should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible after touching chickens, collecting eggs or interacting with the birds and their environment,” she said.

“You should never wash your eggs with water as it makes them porous and can enable bacteria on the surface to penetrate the shell and contaminate the egg.

“Store eggs in the fridge and cook them thoroughly.”

Dr Bone said the potential involvement of chickens that had previously been in commercial egg-laying flocks was being investigated.

“Most layers are processed for animal food and meat products when they finish their prime laying period,” she said.

“Most of the cases live in separate households across Melbourne’s western and northern suburbs, with cases also in Gippsland and western Victoria.

“Investigations have not yet identified any common source.”

Agriculture Victoria has confirmed that salmonella enteritidis had been detected at a commercial egg farm.

It is understood end-of-lay chickens from this farm were sold to one of the affected backyard flocks.

Agriculture Victoria is continuing to investigate links to backyard chickens.

This farm is under quarantine and no eggs are in the marketplace.

Salmonella enteritidis is present in many international egg industries, with the majority of cases notified in Victoria in the past being in people who have acquired their illness overseas.

It is best to purchase vaccinated chickens from a reliable commercial source.

A good starter flock usually consists of birds 16 to 24 weeks old, and four or five birds will usually produce enough eggs for a household.

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