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The alert is in response to the growing number of chicken owners who are getting salmonella from their pets

September 16, 2016 12:03 PM

Stop kissing your chickens!

Cuddling is also a no-no. This news comes courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is warning people to stop kissing, snuggling, cuddling and otherwise canoodling with their pet chickens and other feathered friends.

Turns out chicks, ducklings, geese and other poultry are passing on salmonella to their humans in increasing numbers through their droppings, feathers, feet and beaks. The germs can get onto cages, coops and food dishes, and from there onto the hands, shoes and clothes of people who come in contact with them. Humans then can get infected when they put their hands in or around their mouth, Casey Barton Behravesh, a veterinarian epidemiologist at the CDC, tells PEOPLE.

“These germs are invisible, so touching them or even being around the areas they roam in, people can get contaminated,” she says.

The rise in people keeping chickens and other fowl in backyard flocks has led to a corresponding jump in reported cases of a strain of the disease linked to live poultry, according to the CDC.

So hey, Tiara from season 20 of The Bachelor and the recently concluded season of Bachelor in Paradise, who was shown smooching her pet chicken,  you feeling okay, girl?

Salmonella lives naturally in the intestines of birds, which can appear healthy themselves but still transmit the bacteria, Behravesh says. That doesn’t bode well for the 49 percent of people in a CDC study saying they cuddle their baby fowl and the 13 percent who reported kissing their birds.

But that’s still not stopping Steve English, 67, of Chicago, from getting up close and personal with his flock of 16 backyard birds. He walks through the coops barefoot, shares coffee from the same cup with his hens and sometimes sleeps next to them in his bed, he tells PEOPLE.

“I don’t think I’m going to get salmonella,” he says, citing what he says is his strong immune system and health of his brood.

To reduce the chance of getting salmonella from your poultry pet, Behravesh says people should wash their hands immediately after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam, which by the way, should not be inside your house. You also should thoroughly cook any eggs collected from hens, and stay outdoors when cleaning their cages or food and water containers, the CDC says.

“I recognize how wonderful chickens can be to have,” says Behravesh, who herself grew up with backyard chickens. But, she says, “Don’t play chicken with your health.”

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