Diseases Caused by Chickens

imany chickens on the farm image by Ivonne Wierink from Fotolia.com

Poultry products, and chickens in particular, continue to be a favorite element of the human diet. Chickens can be used for both their meat and their eggs, and they have even become a popular type of domestic pet in some urban environs. However, chickens can be a source of a number of bacterial and viral-related diseases and infections due to the various pathogenic organisms they carry. As such, strict sanitary precautions should be taken when cooking and/or handling this feathery fowl.


Salmonella poisoning, or salmonellosis, is probably the most common bacterial affliction that humans can attribute to chickens. The infection is passed by eating chicken meat or eggs that have been contaminated with this bacterium. Salmonellosis is characterized by high fever, abdominal cramping and diarrhea, and it is especially dangerous when it affects young children, the elderly or people with compromised immune systems.

Avian Flu

This flu virus has gained particular notoriety in recent years due to fears it has the potential to lead to a global pandemic, according to experts with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chickens and other fowl are known to be carriers of this virus, showing no symptoms of illness while infected with the viral strain. The avian flu virus can be transported via the air as well as in chicken feces. Symptoms of this illness in people include high fever, coughing, aching muscles, and both vomiting and diarrhea.

E. Coli Infection

Though the E. coli bacteria is more often associated with the consumption of beef products, escherichia coli infections can result from eating contaminated chicken as well. E. coli is commonly found in the intestines of humans and other mammals, but particular strains of the microorganism can cause serious illness or even death in some cases. Symptoms of infection include severe abdominal cramping, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.


Campylobacter is another pathogenic bacterium that can be transferred to humans by eating infected chicken meat. This microorganism is one of the most common sources of food-related poisoning in people. High temperatures are very effective in killing Campylobacter, so proper cooking methods are important to follow when preparing chicken dishes. Like other chicken-related infections, this bacterium can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. It also can lead to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease that could result in paralysis. Concerns related to Campylobacter have arisen in the health community due to the identification of increased levels of antibiotic-resistant strains of the organism. According to by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), data from industrialized countries have demonstrated that a significant source of antibiotic-resistant food borne infections in humans is the acquisition of the resistant bacteria from animals via food.

Staphylococcus Aureus Infection

Chicken-related Staph infections are usually attributed to the microorganism Staphylococcus aureus. The organism can be passed to people via ingestion of contaminated meat, and can also be transferred as a result of physical contact with live birds. Toxins released by this bacterium can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and severe muscular pain. Similar to Campylobacter, this bacterium has grabbed the attention of health officials due to virulent strains that are resistant to antibiotic drugs, particularly Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus--commonly identified as MRSA--which has become a rising issue in hospital environments, according to the CDC.