Easter and the spring season is the time of year where chicks, ducklings, and other baby birds are given as gifts or put on display for children. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is warning Oklahomans of the risk of illness from handling baby birds. These popular springtime pets often carry Salmonella, a bacterium that causes a diarrheal illness.
The bacteria are carried in the baby bird’s intestines, which can contaminate the body of the animal and their environment. When live baby poultry carry Salmonella, they don’t appear to be sick, but they can still spread the germs to people. People can be exposed to Salmonella by holding, cuddling, or kissing the birds or by touching things where the birds live, such as cages or feed and water bowls. Additionally, germs can be found on the hands, shoes, and clothing of those who handle the birds, or work or play in areas where birds live and roam. People become infected with Salmonella when they put their hands, or other things that have been in contact with droppings, in or around their mouth. Children are specifically at risk of illness since they are less likely to wash their hands and have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact after handling baby birds.
During 2006, the OSDH identified an outbreak of Salmonella associated with handling chicks, ducklings, and other baby birds purchased from farm supply stores as pets. Fourteen cases were identified and seven required hospitalization.
Symptoms of Salmonella include fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps; symptoms usually last four to seven days. In persons in poor health or with weakened immune systems, Salmonella can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections.
The OSDH offers the following preventive recommendations when handling baby poultry:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching baby poultry. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water are not readily available. Parents should supervise hand washing for small children to make sure it is adequate.
- Avoid purchasing chicks, ducklings or other baby birds as pets for Easter gifts. Give soft toy animals as a safer alternative.
- If baby birds are purchased, avoid keeping them in a household with children younger than 5 years of age.
- Keep baby birds in a designated area away from family living spaces. Do not allow them to roam freely in the house, especially in areas where food or drinks are prepared or served, such as kitchens and dining areas.
- Supervise children when handling baby birds.
- Do not allow children to handle baby birds in other settings such as childcare centers, farm stores, or schools. If they do so, ensure they wash their hands with soap and water after touching baby birds or anything in their environment.
- Pacifiers, toys, or other objects should not come in contact with baby birds or their enclosures. Wash objects that come in contact thoroughly with soap and water.
- Disinfect areas where feeders, water containers, and cages are cleaned.
- Avoid eating or drinking around baby birds, especially when handling them.