March 29, 2007 / 8:02 PM / in 11 years

Salmonella outbreaks linked to baby poultry exposure

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - You may decide that a baby chick or duckling is not the best pet for your child after considering the implications of today’s report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a recent salmonellosis outbreak that was traced back to these little creatures.

Three outbreaks of salmonellosis that occurred in the U.S. in 2006 appear to have resulted from contact with baby poultry from hatcheries, the CDC reported Thursday. This is the first year that more than one outbreak of the disease associated with baby poultry has been recognized.

Salmonellosis is an infection with a bacterial class called Salmonella, which is spread through the feces. Most persons with salmonellosis develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 72 hours after infection.

The majority of people recover without treatment, but soon may develop diarrhea so severe that they must be hospitalized; and the infection can even cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

Hand washing and not permitting young children to handle these animals are key measures in preventing future outbreaks, the report indicates.

Baby poultry, especially chicks and ducklings, are a well-known source of salmonellosis, investigators from the CDC and elsewhere note in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The risk of salmonellosis is increases during springtime and the Easter season as many parents give chicks and ducklings as pets to their children. Children’s propensity to put their fingers in their mouths coupled with their developing immune systems place them at higher risk than adults for developing the disease.

The 2006 outbreaks took place in Michigan, Nebraska, and Oregon, and began around springtime and were traced to contact with baby poultry bought at agricultural feed stores. These feed stores were found to have received the animals from one hatchery in each of the states.

The report indicates that most of the people who bought baby poultry were unaware that the birds can transmit Salmonella to humans. “Although baby birds such as chicks and ducklings might not appear dirty, they can have feces on their feathers and beaks, areas that children are more likely to touch or place in their mouths, possibly resulting in infection,” the authors of an editorial note warn.

“To reduce the risk for illness or death from salmonellosis,” they state, “persons should be educated about the risks of contact with baby poultry, should avoid contact with bird feces, and should wash their hands with soap and warm water after handling baby poultry or anything that has been in contact with them.”

In addition, the article emphasizes that children younger than 5 years of age should not be allowed to handle baby birds of any type.

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 30, 2007.

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