Deadly Bacteria can Transmit to Humans During Chicken Transport

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Transporting Chicken and Disease Risk

According to a new study, antibiotic resistant, as well as antibiotic susceptible bacteria have been cultured from the cars of humans who travel on the same roads as chicken trucks. Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health sampled vehicles as far back as 17 miles from the transport trucks, finding potentially deadly bacteria in the air and on the surface automobiles. The study authors conclude that transporting chickens in open truck to slaughter could influence human and environmental health.

Human exposure to bacteria, leading to illness, is often a mystery for diagnosticians. Evaluating where and how disease spreads can be challenging, when sorting out what series of events brings a patient the hospital. Antibiotic resistance has become a global challenge as researchers struggle to find new classes of drugs to treat infection. Transporting broiler chickens in open crates, contaminated with feces and bacteria is now found to be possible source of human exposure to deadly bacteria.

The study was performed in the Delmarva Peninsula region, which is heavily farmed and highly trafficked. The region is shared by Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and is a popular tourist area, laden with chicken farms. The study is published in the first issue of Journal of Infection and Public Health.


"Our study shows that there is a real exposure potential, especially during the summer months, when people are driving with the windows down; the summer is also a time of very heavy traffic in Delmarva by vacationers driving to the shore resorts." Ana M. Rule, PhD, a research associate in the Bloomberg School's Department of Environmental Health Sciences, in conjunction with Professor Ellen K. Silbergeld, PhD, and Sean L. Evans performed the study, collecting bacteria samples from cars with open windows, using no air conditioning.

They found bacteria on the door handles, on soda cans and in the air inside the vehicles, making the bacteria easy to inhale or introduce into the body from the hands.

Antibiotic resistance was noted in three strains of bacteria from the chicken trucks. The drugs are FDA approved for placement in chicken feed, and also widely used to treat human bacterial infection.

The authors feel studies are needed to find safer ways to transport chickens from the farm to the slaughterhouse to keep the potentially deadly bacteria from humans, and further define how exposure to the antibiotic resistant bacteria affects humans, especially in densely farmed areas.

Source: Transporting Broiler Chickens Could Spread Antibiotic-Resistant Organisms