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Health officials warn of disease risk from handling chicks, ducklings

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) investigators have linked three cases of salmonellosis (illness due to infection with Salmonella bacteria) to ducklings purchased from the Tractor Supply Company store in Inver Grove Heights. The cases are associated with a multi-state outbreak of salmonellosis being investigated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The ill Minnesotans ranged in age from 18 years to 60 years. All three cases were caused by Salmonella Infantis, which has been previously associated with poultry. The cases occurred from late March through early April 2013.

While the cases shared the same type of Salmonella, any chick or duck can carry a variety of Salmonella strains. MDH State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Joni Scheftel said the outbreak underscores the importance of washing your hands thoroughly after handling chicks, ducklings or other birds.

"Chicks and ducklings can be a great attraction for children and families this time of year, but they can also be a source of illness," Dr. Scheftel said. "That is why it is so important for people handling them to take steps to prevent infection.

According to Dr. Scheftel, young children are especially at risk and are also more likely to develop serious complications from Salmonella infections. During a similar outbreak of salmonellosis in 2008, nine of the 14 chick-associated cases were in children less than 12 years of age. In 2012, Minnesota residents were part of four separate multi-state outbreaks of salmonellosis associated with chicks.

Salmonella is a type of bacteria carried in the intestines of animals and it can be shed into the environment. Chicks, ducklings, and other poultry are a recognized source of Salmonella, especially for children. Birds may shed Salmonella even when they appear healthy, and even a bird that looks clean can still have enough germs on its feathers or feet to make a person sick.

People typically get Salmonella from poultry by hand-to-mouth contact. Usually this happens when people handle birds or objects in their environment and then accidentally touch their mouths or forget to wash their hands before eating or drinking. Salmonellosis can also be contracted by eating contaminated foods that have not been properly prepared and handled.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Some people are more susceptible to infection and will have more severe disease. These people include young children, pregnant women, the elderly, people on chemotherapy, diabetics, and others with weakened immune systems. Approximately 20 percent of cases reported to MDH are hospitalized. Most people develop symptoms one to three days after being exposed to Salmonella, and recover in about a week. It's important for people to be aware that if they've had or are having diarrhea with fever and have had contact with chicks or ducks, they should consult their health care provider.

Dr. Dale Lauer, an assistant director with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, works with MDH on the issue of salmonellosis associated with chicks and ducklings. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health permits and conducts annual inspections of all Minnesota poultry dealers to ensure that mail order chicks or ducklings originate from approved sources. Inspections are conducted to confirm that proper feed, water and sanitation requirements are in place and healthy poultry are available to customers.

"The Board of Animal Health has been working closely with MDH to increase the implementation of public health precautions at venues where chicks and ducklings are sold and the availability of Salmonella fact sheets," Lauer said.

Health officials offered some tips for those handling or raising chicks or ducklings:

Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle poultry.

Supervise older children when handling poultry and make sure they wash their hands afterward.

Avoid nuzzling or kissing chicks, ducklings or other poultry.

Do not eat or drink around poultry or their living areas.

Keep poultry outside and especially out of areas where food is prepared.

Do not wash the birds' food and water dishes in the kitchen sink.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling poultry or anything in their environment.

"Raising poultry can be a wonderful experience for families, but it's important to protect yourself and your kids from the germs animals can carry," Dr. Scheftel said.

More information can be found online at and on the CDC website at: