Easter worry: CDC cites salmonella threat from chicks


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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Three salmonella outbreaks among people who had come in contact with baby chicks and other birds, sometimes given to children as springtime pets, made 81 people ill last year, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

State health departments notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2006 of three springtime outbreaks of salmonella infections, the most on record, in people who had handled chicks, ducklings, goslings and other baby birds bought at agricultural feed stores, a CDC report stated.

During springtime and the Easter season, it is important to remember that children are more susceptible to infection from these baby birds, the CDC said. Children under age 5 should not be permitted to handle them, the CDC said.

"Although baby birds such as chicks and ducklings might not appear dirty, they can have feces on their feathers and beaks, areas that children are more likely to touch or place in their mouths, possibly resulting in infection," the report stated.

Anything that has come in contact with these birds, like floors, tables, rugs, sinks and fingers, can be contaminated with feces, the report added.

People infected with salmonella bacteria can develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, and their illness usually lasts four to seven days. In some people, diarrhea can become so severe that they need hospitalization. In rare cases, the infection can be fatal.

The CDC report described outbreaks detected by health authorities in Michigan (21 patients), Nebraska (56 patients) and Oregon (four patients). Some were hospitalized.

"Fewer than 20 hatcheries in the United States provide the majority of baby poultry sold in agricultural feed stores in the nation, and certain hatcheries have been implicated repeatedly as sources of baby poultry-associated salmonellosis outbreaks," the CDC stated.

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