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Salmonella and Baby Poultry

Chicks

Although baby chicks and ducklings are a great sign of spring, you might want to think twice before bringing them home as pets.

People can become infected with Salmonella from eating food contaminated with the bacteria or by having contact with an infected animal's feces.  Approximately 1,600 people with Salmonella infections are reported each year in Ohio; however, the true number of Ohioans infected each year is likely higher because many people do not seek medical treatment and are not diagnosed with Salmonella. Children younger than 5 years of age, adults older than 65 years of age, and people who are immunocompromised are at a higher risk for severe infection from Salmonella.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has investigated multiple Salmonella outbreaks associated with live chicks and ducklings.  There have been more than 80 such outbreaks nationwide since 2010.  Last year, there were 12 multistate outbreaks of human Salmonella infections linked to live poultry.  A total of 1,135 people from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico were infected during these outbreaks, including 55 Ohioans.

How is Salmonella transmitted?

Children become infected by putting their fingers or other things contaminated with chick stool in their mouths. Chicks and ducklings often do not appear dirty but may have feces on their feathers and beaks – places where children are likely to touch.

How do I know if a chick or duckling has Salmonella?

Many chicks and young birds carry Salmonella bacteria in their feces. It is difficult to know if chicks are carrying Salmonella because they will not usually show signs of illness.

How do I reduce the exposure of young children to Salmonella from chicks and ducklings?

  • Do NOT purchase live animals as gifts. Give toy stuffed animals instead.
  • Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle baby chicks or other young birds.  Keep them from coming into contact with packages that have contained chicks or ducklings.
  • Wash hands immediately if anyone touches chicks or ducklings or their environment. Pacifiers, toys, bottles, or other objects should not touch the baby birds or their enclosures. If these objects do become contaminated, wash them with warm soapy water.
  • Do not allow anyone to eat or drink while interacting with birds or their environment.  Keep the bird area separate from areas where food and drink are prepared or consumed. Do not allow chicks or ducklings on table surfaces or places where food will be prepared or eaten.
  • Talk to your veterinarian, nurse, or doctor about possible risk factors.

What are the symptoms of Salmonella infections in humans?

Most people have diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain that starts one to three days after they are infected with the bacteria.  These symptoms usually resolve after one week. Other symptoms might be nausea, chills, headache, or a general achy feeling. Young children, adults older than 65 years, and other immunocompromised persons may have a more severe infection. Occasionally, infections are so severe that people have to see a doctor or be hospitalized.

How are Salmonella infections diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosis is made by culturing Salmonella bacteria from the stool. Treatments are usually supportive, consisting of fluid therapy and pain relief.  Antibiotics should only be used to treat severe cases of illness because antibiotics may prolong the disease, and many strains of Salmonella are resistant to antibiotics.  If you think you may have a Salmonella infection, contact your healthcare provider.