No, Seriously, Stop Snuggling Your Backyard Chickens Immediately

If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times: your backyard chickens are disease vectors of the highest order. They are not to be overly handled, cuddled, smooched, nuzzled, or given hearty pats on the back, however cute and cuddly-looking they may be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reminding Americans of this once again amidst the latest salmonella outbreak linked to chickens, with 168 infections and 34 hospitalizations reported so far across 43 states, The New York Times reports.

Chickens, you might recall, often carry salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tract. It doesn't harm them, but it does come out in their droppings, and the bacteria in those droppings proceeds to spread to pretty much everything else the chickens interact with—including their affectionate owners. The CDC told the Times that about one-third of salmonella cases in this latest outbreak were children under 5, suggesting that cuddling and playing with the birds really is a primary risk factor.

These salmonella outbreaks will continue to be a pressing issue for the CDC as more and more Americans set up backyard coops. The Times notes that chicken ownership is on the rise nationwide:

Chick sales often rise in periods of anxiety or economic stress, such as stock market downturns and presidential election years. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, a combination of unemployment, anxious free time for those not struggling with illness, and financial instability led to people panic-buying chickens much as they did toilet paper. Many were first-time buyers.

And the number of salmonella infections in 2020 rose in kind.

The CDC's recommendation for handling chickens might sound familiar: wash your hands for at least a full 20 seconds after making contact with the birds or anything they've touched. (Hand washing—turns out it works!) Children under 5 should be prevented from making contact with the birds at all, presumably because they can't be trusted to rein in their impulse to smooch 'em. For more salmonella prevention information, head here.

Maybe you're thinking to yourself, "No sweat, I don't think chickens are particularly cute anyway!" Well, we're here to burst your bubble: the same warnings apply to ducks, too. And no one is immune to the cuteness of itty bitty fuzzy ducklings.