All about Salmonella disease

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The word "Salmonella" evokes fear in the hearts of chicken-keepers. A healthy respect for this bacterium is certainly justified, but should not be blown out of proportion. The main concern is that Salmonella can be transferred to humans and can make us very sick, or in some cases even cause death. Thankfully, practicing good biosecurity and following the CDC's guidelines can keep humans safe. Unfortunately, though, the prognosis isn't so good for chickens that become infected with Salmonella. Read on to find out more.

Salmonella (general)
Various types of Salmonella infection include Pullorum, Typhoid, Paratyphoid, Arizonosis, Paracolon, various other names

Some types of Salmonella are rare in chickens; others are more common

General signs
Fatigue, weakness in neck, resting on hocks, ruffled feathers, depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, increased thirst, drop in laying, shriveled or purplish comb and wattles, loose poo, death

Cardinal or diagnostic signs
Lab ID of bacteria. Post mortem: swollen, discolored internal organs, depending on which type of Salmonella infection the birds had. May affect liver, spleen, intestines, kidneys, lungs and/or heart.

Various Salmonella bacteria

Yes -- but some types are more communicable than others. Salmonella is transmitted by droppings from infected birds (or infected rodents or other animals) that get in chicken feeders or waterers, transmitted by feather dander, transmitted in ovo to hatchlings, transmitted on contaminated equipment or shoes, etc.

Communicability to humans
Yes. Humans can get certain types of Salmonella infections, again--chiefly from ingesting infected droppings (getting manure or dust on hands and then putting hands into mouth), or by eating improperly cooked eggs or meat. Immune-compromised people, people over the age of 65, and children under the age of 5 are most vulnerable. Wash your hands with soap and water after handling poultry or equipment. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be effective, too. To avoid risk of Salmonella infection, follow the Center for Disease Control precautions.

CDC recommendations for reducing the chance of contracting Salmonella

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Adults should supervise hand-washing by young children. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Don’t let live poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored.
  • Don’t let children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65, or people with weakened immune systems from conditions such as cancer treatment, HIV/AIDS or organ transplants, handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Avoid kissing your birds or snuggling them, and then touching your mouth.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for live poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers.
  • Buy birds from hatcheries that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan (USDA-NPIP) U.S. voluntary Salmonella Monitoring Program. This program is intended to reduce the incidence of Salmonella in baby poultry in the hatchery, which helps prevent the spread of illness among poultry and people.
(Yes, My Pet Chicken's hatchery is NPIP certified)! 

Incubation period
Depends on the type of Salmonella and how much exposure occurred, but generally just a few days.

Yes, birds who have recovered may be asymptomatic carriers.

Yes, this bacteria can be found generally in the environment.

Home treatment and/or prevention
Prevention: Practice good biosecurity. Purchase poultry from reputable, NPIP sources that closely monitor their flocks’ health. Do not purchase birds from auctions or other non NPIP sources; even seemingly healthy birds may carry this to your flock and infect them.

Treatment: Treatments are rarely effective and are not recommended because birds that survive may become carriers and infect others. Some types of Salmonella infection must be reported to the federal or state government. Sanitize the coop and run, and be sure to also sanitize the brooder and/or incubator. Salmonella can persist in the environment for long periods--up to five years in feather dander, and more than 2 years in contaminated droppings.

Veterinary care
None. Your vet can humanely euthanize suffering birds, and may have good advice for sanitizing the coop/run/brooder.

No, however some birds can survive to shed the virus. Consult your vet to be sure, but Salmonella is one of those tragic illnesses where it’s advisable to humanely euthanize affected birds so they don’t infect others.

Other conditions, illnesses and/or diseases with similar signs:
Marek’s disease, Colibacillosis