Baby chicks and ducklings are popular gifts around Easter, but practically every year they are linked to outbreaks of Salmonella in humans. Beyond the risk of illness, once the novelty wears off - these irresistibly cute and cuddly baby birds often come to a bad end - as this National Audubon Society report explains (see Colored Chicks Raise Concerns But, After Easter, Many Face Fates Worse Than Dye).
But from a public health perspective, baby chicks as pets – particularly for young children – pose a significant health risk.
In early summer of 2012, in That Duck May Look Clean, But . . ., we looked at a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Montevideo involving 66 persons across 20 states linked to the handling of live poultry (baby chicks or ducklings or both) sold via mail-order hatcheries and agricultural feed stores.
By the time the outbreak was declared over in October, it had grown to 93 persons from 23 states and Puerto Rico, although it is generally accepted that surveillance only picks up a fraction of the cases.
You may recall that similar warnings have gone out in the past regarding Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Small Turtles. Reptiles, amphibians, and small rodents (like hamsters) – along with birds - can carry and spread salmonella bacteria, which makes good hand hygiene particularly important after touching these creatures.
Once again, last year the CDC tracked a large Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Live Poultry in Backyard Flocks, which involved 363 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Infantis, Salmonella Newport, or Salmonella Hadar from 43 states and Puerto Rico.
The Investigation found: One hundred seventy-four (73%) of 237 ill persons interviewed reported contact with live poultry (e.g., chicks, chickens, ducks, ducklings) in the week before becoming ill. - and - Many ill persons in this outbreak reported bringing live poultry into their homes, and others reported kissing or cuddling with live poultry.
For some tips on avoiding Salmonellosis this spring, you may wish to visit the CDC’s webpage:
Peep, chirp, quack! Live baby poultry, such as chicks, ducklings, goslings, and baby turkeys, can carry harmful germs called Salmonella. After you touch a chick, duckling, or other baby bird, or anything in the area where they live and roam, WASH YOUR HANDS so you don't get sick!
Often, live baby poultry may be put on display at stores where children may be able to touch the birds or areas where they are displayed. Because these birds are so soft and cute, many people do not realize the potential danger that live baby poultry can be, especially to children.
How do I reduce the risk?
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live baby poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
- Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
- Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.
- Don’t let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
- Don't snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live baby poultry.
- Don't let live baby poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
- Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
- Don't give live baby poultry as gifts to young children.
- Send a Health-e-Card: Teach Hand Washing
- Download a CDC Kidtastics Podcast: Why Parents Should Think Twice Before Giving Baby Birds to Young Children for Easter [PODCAST - 4:09 minutes]
What are the signs, symptoms, and types of treatment available for Salmonella infections?
Salmonella can make people sick with
- Abdominal cramps
Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Infants, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
You can learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatment of Salmonella infection by visiting the CDC's Salmonella website. If you suspect you or your child has Salmonella infection, please contact your health care provider immediately.