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Published June 18, 2008, 12:00 AM

Warning issued about handling baby chicks

State health officials have identified seven cases of salmonellosis in recent months that are associated with handling chicks or ducklings, prompting them to remind Minnesotans to wash hands thoroughly after handling baby poultry.

State health officials have identified seven cases of salmonellosis in recent months that are associated with handling chicks or ducklings, prompting them to remind Minnesotans to wash hands thoroughly after handling baby poultry.

The Minnesota Department of Health said the cases occurred from late March through late May 2008 and ranged in age from 5 months to 70 years. Two of those who became ill, a 5 month old and a 42 year old, were hospitalized for two and three days, respectively.

All of the infections were caused by Salmonella Montevideo, which previously has been associated with chick contact. One of the individuals purchased chicks by mail order; the others purchased chicks or ducklings at a variety of poultry distributors throughout the state. While the cases shared the same type of salmonella, any chick or duck can carry salmonella of a variety of different types, according to Dr. Joni Scheftel, state public health veterinarian at MDH.

“In a typical year, a handful of the approximately 700 salmonella infections diagnosed in Minnesotans are linked to contact with chicks and ducklings,” Scheftel said. “However, young children are especially at risk and are also more likely to develop serious complications from salmonella infections. So it’s important for people to be aware that if they’ve had or are having diarrhea with fever and have had contact with chicks or ducks, they should consult their health care provider.”

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that is carried in the intestines of animals and can be shed into the environment. People typically become infected after eating contaminated foods or from contact with animals or their environments. Chicks, ducklings, and other poultry are a recognized source of salmonella, especially for children.

People get salmonella from poultry by hand to mouth contact. Usually this happens when people handle birds or their droppings and then accidentally touch their mouths or forget to wash their hands before eating or drinking. Even birds that do not look sick may be shedding salmonella. And even though a bird looks clean, it may still have microscopic amounts of germs on its feathers or feet.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Approximately 20 percent of cases reported to MDH are hospitalized. Most people develop symptoms one to three days after being exposed to salmonella, and recover in about a week.

Some people are more susceptible to infection and will have more severe disease. These people include young children, pregnant women, the elderly, people on chemotherapy, diabetics, and others with weakened immune systems.

Whether you raise chicks or ducklings as a source of food or keep them as pets, follow these steps to protect yourself and your family from illness:

• Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle poultry.

• Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling poultry or their droppings.

• Do not eat or drink around poultry or their living areas.

• Do not let poultry live inside your home.

• Do not wash the birds' food and water dishes in the kitchen sink.

For more information, contact State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Joni Scheftel at (651) 201-5107 or go to: Health risks associated with raising chickens (CDC document/PDF: 24KB/4 pages).

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