Salmonella risk: As spring arrives, avoid buying chicks, ducklings
Spring is the season when people purchase "baby chicks" for their backyard poultry flocks or to give as Easter gifts, but one public health expert advises caution around these cute, fuzzy birds.
The problem: Baby poultry carry salmonella bacteria that can cause serious illness.
"Salmonella bacteria often contaminate adult chickens, ducks and other live poultry, so it goes without saying that their offspring often carry it, too,” says Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., Oregon Public Health veterinarian.
“What’s worse is that because of their size and cuteness, these birds often are picked by children, who will put them close to their faces and kiss them," DeBess says. "In most cases, children may not wash their hands after handling them.”
Since 2010, nine outbreaks of illnesses caused by salmonella bacteria from chicks have occurred, affecting at least 37 confirmed salmonellosis cases and many more suspected cases. A third or more of the cases were children, DeBess said. The last major salmonellosis outbreak, in 2013, occurred after people handled, kissed and kept poultry inside the home.
Salmonella infections can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever symptoms lasting three to seven days, DeBess said. Anyone with compromised immune systems, the very young and elderly people could become very ill and die of the infection.
“We don’t think they are appropriate Easter gifts," DeBess says, "especially for young children – those younger than 5 – who are particularly vulnerable to serious illness from salmonella contamination because of their underdeveloped immunity.”
Many people purchasing baby poultry also don’t realize the responsibility involved with raising chicks and ducklings as the animals grow up. “These birds require space to roam and food to eat, and these factors can be expensive,” DeBess says. “As a result, they often are abandoned after they become adult chickens and ducks.”
Tips for preventing salmonella infection from baby poultry:
•Don’t give live baby birds to children. Instead, give stuffed animals.
•Always wash hands with soap and water, and thoroughly clean surfaces after handling any animal or coming in contact with animal waste.
•Keep chicks in an appropriate outdoor area.
•If chicks are handled, never nuzzle or kiss them.
•Never allow poultry inside the home.