time of year has arrived for baby chicks and ducklings to hatch out into the world, bringing with them annual warnings to help protect against the risk of Salmonella infection. Every year, multiple outbreaks of Salmonella from newborn birds are estimated to sicken thousands of Americans. In the past three years alone, more than 1,200 laboratory-confirmed cases of Salmonella have been linked to chicks and ducklings, with tens of thousands more estimated to have gone unreported. And, each year, local and state health departments put out warnings with practical advice to minimize illnesses. Those cases tend to see a spike around springtime, when feed supply stores fill up with freshly hatched chicks for sale. Young children and adults older than 65 are strongly advised to limit direct contact with birds and thoroughly wash their hands immediately after any contact. Children younger than 5 especially need to be monitored closely to make sure that they don’t kiss the birds or stick their fingers in their mouths after handling them. “For people at higher risk for severe Salmonella infections, it’s best to use a philosophy of ‘look but don’t touch’ because all chickens or ducks, even healthy ones, can carry bacteria like Salmonella that can make people sick,” said Washington State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy in a written warning to bird owners. “And of course, if you handle a chick or duckling, wash your hands immediately with soap and water.” Salmonella is a potentially deadly bacteria that most often causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach pains in those it infects. Children, older adults and immunocompromised individuals are the most susceptible to Salmonella. The Washington State Department of Health has published a webpage recommending Salmonella safety tips for bird owners. The tips include:

  • Always wash hands with soap and water after handling birds.
  • Don’t get baby birds as pets for children younger than 5.
  • Always supervise children while handling poultry.
  • Keep live birds away from family living spaces.

The most recent national Salmonella outbreak from live birds sickened at least 363 people in 43 states, hospitalizing 33 percent of them. Cases began in May 2014 and continued to be reported through September.