Nine people in Minnesota have become ill after handling baby chicks or other newly hatched poultry, such as ducks, turkeys or pheasants, prompting a warning from health officials to wash hands and take other precautions after handling young poultry.
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) investigators have linked nine cases of Salmonella infections to baby chicks or other newly hatched poultry purchased from multiple feed stores in Minnesota. The cases are associated with a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections, or salmonellosis, being investigated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The ill Minnesotans ranged in age from 2 months to 66 years. Six cases were caused by the bacteria Salmonella Infantis, two by SalmonellaEnteritidis and one by Salmonella Indiana, all of which have been previously associated with poultry. The cases occurred from late April through mid-June 2016. Eight of the nine cases purchased newly hatched poultry this spring.
Salmonella is a type of bacteria carried in the intestines of animals that can be shed into the environment in their feces. Chicks, ducklings and other poultry are recognized sources of Salmonella infection, especially for children. Birds may shed Salmonella even when they appear healthy, and even a bird that looks clean can still have enough germs on its feathers or feet to make a person sick.
Any chick or newly hatched poultry can carry a variety of Salmonella strains. MDH veterinarian Dr. Stacy Holzbauer said the outbreak underscores the importance of washing your hands thoroughly after handling chicks, ducklings or other birds.
“Chicks can be a great attraction for children and families this time of year, but they can also be a source of illness,” Holzbauer said. “That is why it is so important for people handling them to take steps to prevent infection.
Young children are especially at risk and are also more likely to develop serious complications from Salmonella infections. During a similar national outbreak of salmonellosis in 2013, 41 percent of cases were younger than 10 years old. In 2015, Minnesota residents were part of two separate multistate outbreaks of salmonellosis associated with newly hatched poultry.
People typically get Salmonella infection from poultry by hand-to-mouth contact. Usually this happens when people handle birds or objects in their environment and then accidentally touch their mouths or forget to wash their hands before eating or drinking. Salmonella infection can also be contracted by eating contaminated foods that have not been properly prepared or handled.
Salmonella can cause diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Some people are more susceptible to infection and may have more severe disease. These include young children, pregnant women, older adults, people on chemotherapy, people with diabetes and others with weakened immune systems. Approximately 20 percent of cases reported to MDH are hospitalized. Most people develop symptoms one to three days after being exposed toSalmonella and recover in about a week. If you’ve had or are having diarrhea and fever and have had contact with chicks or newly hatched poultry, talk with your health care provider.
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) works with MDH on the issue of Salmonella infections associated with newly hatched poultry. The board permits and conducts annual inspections of all Minnesota poultry dealers to ensure mail order and newly hatched poultry originate from approved sources. Inspections are conducted to confirm proper feed, water and sanitation requirements are in place and healthy poultry are available to customers.
“In addition to permitting businesses to sell birds, we partner with MDH to reduce any risks of illness associated with those sales,” said BAH Assistant Director Dr. Dale Lauer. “We do this by ensuring there are adequate barriers and handling practices in place for the newly hatched poultry being sold, and we make Salmonella fact sheets available to consumers.”
Health officials offer tips for handling or raising newly hatched poultry:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling poultry or anything in their environment.
- Do not let children younger than 5 handle poultry.
- Supervise older children when handling poultry, and make sure they wash their hands afterward.
- Avoid nuzzling or kissing chicks, ducklings or other poultry.
- Do not eat or drink around poultry or their living areas.
- Keep poultry outside and especially out of areas where food is prepared.
- Do not wash birds’ food and water dishes in the kitchen sink.
“Raising poultry can be a wonderful experience for families, but it’s important to protect yourself and your kids from the germs animals can carry,” Holzbauer said.