Benalla's chook owners are being advised to exercise good hygiene after a number of salmonella cases were linked to backyard flocks.
The Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) has advised families with small flocks of backyard chickens to be aware of safe-handling practices to minimise the chances of becoming sick.
DHHS is working closely with Agriculture Victoria to investigate nine cases of Salmonella Enteritidis illness notified during the past two months – five of them in people keeping backyard chickens.
The five had contact with chickens or ate eggs from household flocks.
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.
Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Angie Bone said people were at risk of becoming infected if they did not wash their hands thoroughly after handling chickens or coming into contact with their environment, or if they ate raw or under-cooked eggs.
It can be a serious infection especially in infants, the elderly, and those with medical conditions that weaken their immune system.
Keeping chickens as pets can be a rewarding experience, especially for children.
However, poultry can carry germs such as Salmonella, even when they appear healthy and clean.
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.
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.
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.
Agriculture Victoria has confirmed that Salmonella Enteritidis has 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.
The majority of cases notified in Victoria in the past are 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 to five birds will usually produce enough eggs for a household.