For Immediate Release: April 9, 2024


Media Contacts: 

Ben Truman │ Vermont Department of Health

802-316-2117 / 802-863-7281

[email protected]

Scott Waterman | Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets


[email protected]


Know the Health Risks when Raising Backyard Birds

Even clean and healthy-looking poultry can carry harmful germs


WATERBURY, VT – Warmer weather and chirping chicks mark the springtime return of wild birds and backyard flocks. As coops and nests are made ready, state health and agriculture officials are reminding people to know how to keep themselves and our feathered friends healthy. Domesticated birds kept for producing eggs or meat can carry harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli, that make people sick. 


“Raising chicks, ducklings, goslings, and other poultry in your backyard can be fun, rewarding and educational,” said Health Department Epidemiologist Megan Cahill, Ph.D. “But these animals can carry germs that make people sick, so it's important to take steps to stay healthy — like washing hands after any contact with the birds, their eggs, and areas where birds live or roam,” Dr. Cahill said. Children younger than 5 years, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to get severe illness from the bacteria poultry can carry.


Whether you are building your first coop, are a seasoned poultry owner, or just visiting a farm or county fair, take these precautions to protect yourself, your family, and your flock:

  • Wash your hands with soap and hot water after touching live poultry, their eggs, or objects in the area where they live or roam.
  • Supervise children around poultry, and make sure they wash their hands thoroughly after interacting with birds.
  • Don’t kiss or snuggle backyard poultry. 
  • Collect eggs regularly and throw away any cracked ones. Clean eggs with fine sandpaper, a brush or a cloth, before putting them in the refrigerator.
  • Keep backyard poultry and items used to care for them outside and away from areas where food or drinks are prepared, served, stored, or where dishes are cleaned.
  • Don’t eat or drink in areas where poultry live or roam.
  • Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while tending to poultry and keep those shoes outside.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for poultry, such as cages or food and water containers.
  • Clean the coop, floor, nests and perches regularly.


Wild birds can also be a source of viruses, potentially infecting domestic poultry and other animals. Some strains of avian influenza can cause severe illness or death in infected domestic poultry flocks. 


While these viruses usually do not infect people, there have been rare cases. The Texas Department of State Health Services is investigating a case of avian flu in an individual. In this instance, however, the patient likely contracted the virus through exposure to infected dairy cattle.


Officials with the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets said the best way to protect your birds is to prevent contact with wild waterfowl. Anyone involved with poultry production – from small backyard coops to large commercial producers – should review their biosecurity plans and activities to ensure the health of their birds. If you have concerns about your flock, contact your veterinarian or call 802-828-2421. 


Learn more about backyard poultry safety at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


For more about poultry biosecurity and avian flu preparedness, visit the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets.


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About the Department of Health
We have been the state's public health agency for more than 130 years, working every day to protect and promote the health of Vermonters.

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About the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) facilitates, supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment.

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