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April 21, 2000

Easter Eggs and Baby Chicks can Bring Holiday Illness

Six cases of Salmonella identified in Oregon

Portland, OR (SafetyAlerts) - Most people like holiday traditions like Easter eggs and baby chicks, but these fun surprises can lead to health surprises most people would rather live without.

This spring Oregon has identified six cases of Salmonella Montevideo infections linked to baby chicks. The baby chicks tested were also positive for this strain of Salmonella.

It is not unusual for baby chicks to pass Salmonella to people. During 1995 and 1996 children in Washington State developed Salmonella infections associated with exposure to baby chicks. Last year, Salmonella outbreaks related to handling chicks and ducklings were also reported in Michigan and Missouri.

The risk of severe illness posed by chicks and ducklings may be highest for children, since Salmonella infections in children may be more severe, and children are often recipients of chicks or ducklings as pets, according to Dr. Emilio De Bess, Oregon's state public health veterinarian.

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.

Most reptiles and many birds shed Salmonella in their feces. Humans become infected when contaminated food, hands, or other objects are placed in the mouth; therefore, hand washing is critical to prevent Salmonella infections following direct or indirect contact with animals.

People who plan to handle baby chicks and ducklings should remember to wash their hands after playing with these pets.

Health officials offered the following prevention tips:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap after handling baby chicks or any other animal or after coming in contact with their feces.
  • Keep your poultry in an outdoor area designated for them and provide proper food and care.
  • Do not nuzzle or kiss your poultry or birds.

Symptoms of salmonellosis usually begin 12-72 hours after exposure and include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Illness usually lasts 4-7 days, and most people will 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.

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