A new notice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns people not to get too cuddly with their pet chickens, and the agency isn't clucking around.
Apparently, affection puts owners at risk for contracting salmonella.
"We do not recommend snuggling or kissing the birds or touching them to your mouth, because that is certainly one way people become infected with salmonella," Megin Nichols, a veterinarian with the CDC, told National Public Radio. "While poultry do appear clean, they do carry bacteria."
The CDC says there's been an uptick in salmonella infections from live poultry, and it's linked to more people keeping fowl like chickens, ducks and turkeys in their backyards.
This year, more than 180 people have contracted salmonella in the U.S. from contact with backyard poultry, according to the CDC. Thirty-three of them had to be hospitalized. The agency reports that 45 salmonella outbreaks were linked to live poultry from 1991 to 2012.
In 2012, 195 cases of salmonella were reported nationwide in a six-month period. Of those people who became ill, 79 percent reported having contact with live chickens the week before they got sick.
Chickens carry Salmonella in their digestive tracts, and it comes out in their feces. From there, the germs can spread to cages, coops, feed and water dishes, as well as hay, plants and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. That's the main reason why the agency also recommends not keeping pet chickens in the house.
While the bacteria isn't harmful to the birds, it can make people very sick.
People who snuggle chickens or touch their stuff are putting themselves at risk for infection if they don't wash their hands afterwards, the CDC said.
The best way to reduce risk for salmonella exposure is to wash hands after touching chickens, and to make sure kids who touch them wash their hands, too.
The CDC said that young children are especially at risk, since they are more likely to put their fingers in their mouths after touching the chickens.
Salmonella exposure is also one of the reasons why public health officials have warned against giving kids baby chicks as Easter gifts.
Probably not a great idea.