NC Health Department urges caution when handling live chicks, ducklings

From the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

RALEIGH – Giving live chicks to children is a long-time tradition during the Easter season and for backyard poultry producers, this is the time of year to buy chicks and ducklings for their flocks. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health is working with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to encourage businesses that sell or display chicks, ducklings and other live poultry to help educate the public about certain health risks associated with handling live birds.

“All poultry, including baby chicks and ducklings, can potentially carry Salmonella in their droppings as well as on their feathers, feet and beaks, even when they appear healthy and clean,” said Dr. Megan Davies, State Epidemiologist. “People can become infected with Salmonella if they have been in contact with bird feces. Young children are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths.”

Davies offers simple tips to help avoid exposure such as washing your hands thoroughly with hot soap and water after handling or touching any area where poultry is produced or housed. “Parents need to be vigilant and make sure their children thoroughly wash their hands every time they handle chicks.”

Salmonella infection is a serious illness with most people developing the illness between one-to-seven days after exposure. While many people recover in a few days without any medical treatment, some will experience life-threatening illnesses, bloody diarrhea, dehydration and other complications. Symptoms include:

• Fever
• Headaches
• Severe abdominal cramps
• Diarrhea
• Nausea
• Vomiting

State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Carl Williams warns that Salmonella can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants and soil in the area where the poultry live or roam. Last year 15 states, including North Carolina, reported 40 documented human cases of Salmonella illness associated with baby poultry. As a result of that outbreak, several federal agencies and private organizations worked together to develop educational posters to help people understand the health risks associated with backyard flocks and baby poultry as well as ways to reduce the risk of human illness.


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