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FOR RELEASE: March 27, 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications

Health Officials Warn of Risk of Salmonella from Easter Pets

Easter and the spring season is the time of year when chicks, ducklings, and other baby birds are given as gifts or put on display. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is warning Oklahomans of the risk of illness from handling baby birds. These popular springtime pets often carry Salmonella, a bacterium that causes a diarrheal illness. The bacteria are carried in the baby bird’s intestines, which can contaminate the body of the animal and their environment. People can be exposed to Salmonella by simply holding, cuddling, or having direct contact with contaminated surfaces and objects. Children are specifically at risk of illness since they are less likely to wash their hands and have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact after handling baby birds.

During March through May of 2006, the OSDH identified an outbreak of Salmonella associated with handling chicks, ducklings, and other baby birds purchased from farm supply stores as pets. Fourteen cases were identified; cases ranged in age from 4 months to 73 years and seven required hospitalization. In addition to last year’s outbreak, cases of salmonellosis in young children in Oklahoma and in other states have been related to handling or playing with baby birds outside of the home in settings such as childcare centers, schools, and farm stores.

Symptoms of Salmonella include fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Symptoms usually last four to seven days. In persons in poor health or with weakened immune systems, Salmonella can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections.

The OSDH would like to encourage everyone to have a healthy, safe, and fun Easter holiday by offering the following preventive measures:

  • Do not purchase chicks, ducklings or other baby birds as pets for Easter gifts.  Give stuffed toy animals as a safer alternative.
  • If baby birds are purchased, do not keep them in a household with children younger than 5 years of age.
  • Keep baby birds in a designated area away from family living spaces.  Do not allow them to roam freely in the house.
  • Supervise children when handling baby birds.
  • Do not allow children to handle baby birds in other settings such as childcare centers, farm stores, or schools.  If they do so, ensure they wash their hands with soap and water after touching baby birds or anything in their environment.  Parents should supervise hand washing for small children to make sure it is adequate.
  • Pacifiers, toys, or other objects should not come in contact with baby birds or their enclosures.  Wash objects that come in contact thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Disinfect areas where feeders, water containers, and cages are cleaned.
  • Do not eat or drink around baby birds and keep them away from food preparation areas.

For more information regarding safe animal handling and prevention of diarrheal illnesses, visit these Web sites: http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/index.html or http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/.




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