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True Stories From The Disease Files

Diarrheal Illness Associated with Exposure to Baby Chicks

During April 2006, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) Communicable Disease Division (CDD) identified an outbreak of salmonellosis.  Thirteen cases were identified; symptom onset dates ranged from March 31st through May 22nd.  Cases ranged in age from 4 months to 73 years (median age: 4 years).  Symptoms experienced included fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Four (31%) cases required hospitalization.  Salmonella was isolated from stool specimens collected for bacterial culture and isolation.  Interviews conducted by the OSDH-CDD indicated cases handled baby birds; including chicks, ducklings, and turkeys during the three days prior to illness onset.  Cases reported baby birds were purchased from farm supply stores as pets.

Salmonellosis is a diarrheal disease caused by an infection with the bacteria Salmonella.  Salmonella is found in the digestive tracts of humans and many kinds of animals, including mammals, birds and reptiles.  Most infections are caused by eating food contaminated with Salmonella.  However, direct contact with infected animals is another way Salmonella may be spread.  Therefore, people can be exposed to Salmonella if they do not wash their hands after having contact with the feces of animals.  Salmonella may be found in the feces of a wide range of domestic animals, livestock, and wild animals, such as dogs, cats, iguanas, tortoises, turtles, chicks, cattle, poultry, and swine.  Outbreaks of salmonellosis associated with exposure to chicks and ducklings have been previously documented.  Many of these outbreaks have occurred during the spring, particularly around Easter when baby birds are provided as gifts to young children.

The likelihood of transmission of Salmonella from pet or farmyard chicks and ducklings can be reduced by avoiding contact with feces from these animals and carefully washing hands with soap and water after handling either chicks, ducklings, or anything that has had contact with these fowl.  In addition, persons at increased risk for illness (e.g., infants, immunocompromised persons, or the elderly) should consider limiting their exposure to these fowl.

Please visit the following links for more information regarding salmonella:

Salmonella Fact Sheets and Information:

Salmonellosis Fact Sheet (46k.pdf)
  Salmonellosis Hoja Informativa (40k.pdf)

External Salmonella Resources:

Healthy Pets Healthy People (CDC)

Salmonella Surveillance Data and Statistics:

Salmonellosis 2010 Surveillance Summary (281k.pdf)

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