Easter and the spring season is the time of year when baby poultry, including chicks, ducklings, goslings, and baby turkeys are given as gifts or put on display in stores for children to touch and hold. Unfortunately, these popular springtime pets often carry Salmonella, a bacteria that causes diarrheal illness. To avoid the risk of illness, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) urges Oklahomans to use caution in handling baby poultry.
Live baby poultry can carry Salmonella and not appear sick, but the bacteria can still spread to people. People are exposed to Salmonella by holding, cuddling, or kissing the birds or by touching items where the birds live, such as cages or feed and water bowls. The bacteria can contaminate the hands, shoes, and clothing of those who handle the birds. People are infected with Salmonella when they put their hands (or other items that have been contaminated with bird droppings) in or around their mouth, or when they prepare food without first washing their hands. Children are especially at risk of illness since they are less likely to wash their hands and have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact.
Symptoms of Salmonella include fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps and 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 disease.
During 2012, eight outbreaks of Salmonella associated with handling chicks, ducklings, and other baby birds were identified in the United States, resulting in more than 450 illnesses. Two of these multistate outbreaks affected Oklahoma residents resulting in nine illnesses, including five hospitalizations. One of these cases occurred in a child less than 5 years of age.
The OSDH offers the following simple steps when handling baby poultry to protect yourself and others from getting sick:
- 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.
- Supervise children when handling baby birds.
- Consider giving soft toy animals for Easter gifts 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.
- 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.
- Avoid eating or drinking around baby birds, especially when handling them.