Soft and Cute, Live Baby Chicks Can Spread Germs and Illness

DOH 2-17-17

Soft and cute doesn’t always mean safe from health risks when it comes to baby poultry, according to a Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) representative.

“It’s the time of year when many Wyoming residents may be making plans to purchase baby poultry for their farming operations or for backyard flocks,” said Tiffany Lupcho, a WDH epidemiologist. “Although these birds appear healthy and clean, they can carry harmful germs.”

Salmonella is one bacteria found in animals, including baby poultry, that can cause diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps and other severe symptoms in humans. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune system are at an increased risk of developing severe symptoms.

Wyoming regularly has cases of Salmonellosis reported in humans from contact with live poultry. Many of these cases are often part of larger, multistate outbreaks involving contact with baby chicks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over the past several years the number of outbreaks of Salmonella from baby poultry has been increasing.

“Baby birds are soft and cute so many people want to touch, hold, or even snuggle with them,” said. “Unfortunately, this behavior can be risky because baby birds can have germs on their body and in their droppings.”

Lupcho said germs can also be found in bird cages and coops. “If someone puts their hands in or near their mouth after handling birds or touching a bird environment, they can become infected, leading to illness,” she said.

“Pet ownership is extremely rewarding and there are many great benefits from having a backyard flock of chickens or larger operation,” Lupcho said. “We want people to be aware of the risks so they can protect themselves and their families.”

Recommended steps to reduce health risks associated with live birds include:

  • Children younger than 5 years of age, elderly persons or people with weak immune systems shouldn’t handle or touch chicks or other live poultry.
  • After touching live poultry or anything in the area where they are found, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Don’t let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored.
  • Don’t eat or drink around live poultry, touch them with the mouth or hold closely to the face.
  • Clean equipment or materials used in caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.