Spring is right around the corner. With it will come warmer days, spring flowers and certainly some of the cutest symbols of the season: baby chicks and ducklings. While they are very popular, it’s important to be aware that these fuzzy birds can spread disease caused by salmonella.
What is it?
Salmonella is a bacteria that causes intestinal illness in people. It lives in the intestines of animals as diverse as cattle, pigs, iguanas and chickens. It is spread through feces.
Symptoms of salmonella begin about one to three days after you are exposed and include diarrhea, fever and stomach pain. People are usually sick for four to seven days. Most people recover without medical treatment, but sometimes people get so sick that they need to be hospitalized. Infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are the most likely to get very sick.
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How big is the health threat?
Salmonella is estimated to cause more than 1 million illnesses each year in the United States. Most cases are caused by contaminated food or water. However, the number of salmonella outbreaks related to live poultry has increased a lot in recent years as keeping backyard chickens has become more popular. Most outbreaks start in early spring and are linked to contact with infected baby chicks and ducklings. Most people sickened in these outbreaks have been children. Young children are especially at risk from salmonella because they are less likely to wash their hands and more likely to put their fingers or contaminated objects in their mouths. Young children are also more likely to develop serious complications if they get infected with salmonella.
How is it spread from poultry?
Chicks can be infected at hatcheries before being shipped out to feed stores and other customers. Healthy chicks, chickens and other fowl can spread bacteria like salmonella that can make you sick, and even a bird that looks clean can have enough germs on its feathers or feet to make a person sick. Birds spread the disease through their feces, and it can survive for a long time in soil and water. The eggs from these birds can contain salmonella. Even birds fed organic feed can get salmonella.
Here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of salmonella from your birds:
Remember that birds can shed salmonella even when they look healthy.
Wash your hands with soap and water after touching your birds or their equipment.
Supervise children when they handle chicks and ducklings.
Make sure they don’t snuggle or kiss adult birds or baby chicks.
Teach them not to eat or drink when they are around poultry.
Don’t give chicks and ducklings as gifts to children under 5.
Give your birds their own space to live, outside of your home.
Don’t wash their equipment in the kitchen sink.
Cook eggs to 160F and poultry to 165F.
Follow these steps and you’re on your way to enjoying your backyard bird pets or poultry while minimizing health and safety risks of salmonella from them.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.