Don’t kiss or cuddle your chickens. That’s the message from the Centers for Disease Control amid a nationwide Salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 1,000 Americans in recent months.


Here are five things to know about Salmonella and safely caring for live poultry.


1. What is Salmonella?


Salmonella is a bacterial infection most commonly caused by the consumption or handling of contaminated foods, including raw poultry, eggs, beef and unwashed fruits and vegetables. Individuals can also become sickened after handling certain animals, like chickens, ducks, snakes turtles and lizards.


The CDC reports that Salmonella is responsible for an estimated 1.2 million illness, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths each year in the United States. Those most vulnerable to the bacteria include children under the age of five years old, adults age 65 and older and those with compromised immune systems.


2. The symptoms


Most people sickened by Salmonella exhibit a range of symptoms, which include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, and develop between 12 hours and three days after infection. The illness typically lasts four to seven days, and most individuals recover without treatment.


In certain cases, diarrhea and fever may be so severe that patients must be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other areas of the body. Under these circumstances, Salmonella can be fatal, unless the person is promptly treated with antibiotics.


3. Salmonella in backyard chickens


Amid the latest outbreak, the CDC has identified six strains of Salmonella across 49 states and cited backyard poultry from multiple hatcheries as the likely source of the infections. As of August 30, the outbreak has resulted in 1,003 confirmed illnesses, 175 hospitalizations and two deaths in Texas and Ohio.


Even when they appear healthy, poultry may carry Salmonella bacteria in their feathers, feet, and beaks. The bacteria can be found in cages, coops, feed and water dishes, as well as hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Germs also can get on the hands, shoes, and clothes of people who handle or care for poultry.


4. Preventing infection


The CDC recommends that individuals always wash their hands after touching backyard poultry or anything in the areas where they are kept. If soap and water is not immediately available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Those at increased risk of illness — especially children — should not handle chicks, duckling or other poultry.


Do not kiss or snuggle poultry and do not let them inside the home or areas where food and drinks are prepared, served and stored. Stay outdoors when cleaning equipment or materials used in the care of of poultry. Set aside a pair of shoes to wear when working with poultry and do not wear them indoors.


5. Disinfecting and preparing eggs for consumption


Egg shells can become contaminated with Salmonella from poultry droppings or in the areas where they are laid, so the CDC advises owners to maintain clean coops, collect eggs often and throw away those that are cracked.


Do not wash eggs, as cold water can draw Salmonella bacteria from the shell into the egg, itself. Instead, remove dirt and debris with fine sandpapers a brush or cloth. Eggs should also be refrigerated after collection.


Cook eggs thoroughly so that yolks are not runny and whites are firm.


Those who intend to sell their eggs should know all applicable, local regulations and follow licensing requirements.


For more information on the current Salmonella outbreak visit http://www.CDC.gov.