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DHS news release

April 15, 2004

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180
Technical contact: Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., M.P.H. (503) 731-4024

Baby chicks may bear Salmonella infection

Parents of children who received baby chicks for Easter should be aware that the tiny creatures also bring a risk of Salmonella infection to the family, according to public health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).

Chicks, ducklings and other young fowl may not be appropriate pets for children younger than 5 years or for persons with a weakened immune system, said Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., public health veterinarian in DHS. They are fuzzy and cute, but they can also be loaded with Salmonella.

DeBess said that throughout the country, clusters of Salmonella infections associated with exposure to chicks occur regularly during springtime. In Oregon, 10 cases were identified in 2000, nine cases in 2002 and five cases in 2003. To date this year, five cases have been identified, four of which were in children younger than 5 years old.

Chicks, ducklings, and other fowl shed Salmonella in their feces. Human infections occur when contaminated food, hands, or other objects are placed in the mouth, said DeBess. A basic prevention step is to make sure children and adults wash their hands thoroughly following direct or indirect contact with any animal.

To prevent Salmonella infection, DeBess advises:

• Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling baby chicks or any other animal or after coming in contact with their feces.

• Keep chicks and other fowl in an outdoor area designated for them and provide proper food and care.

• Do not nuzzle or kiss baby chicks, fowl or other pets.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection usually begin one to five days after exposure and include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Illness usually lasts four to seven days. Most people recover without treatment. Infants, children, the elderly and immunocompromised persons are more likely to experience severe illness due to Salmonella that may require treatment and/or hospitalization.

Find out more by reading a recent DHS newsletter on this topic (PDF file).