Those cute fluffy little chicks may be a sign of spring, but health officials say they can also spread germs.  As people start purchasing baby poultry and planning their flocks or eyeing them as pets, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) wants to remind people that baby birds can carry harmful germs even if they appear clean and healthy.

WDH officials baby poultry are a common source of the bacteria Salmonella, which 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 from Salmonella.

“Because baby birds are soft and cute, many people want to touch, hold or even snuggle them but this behavior can be risky because the birds can have germs on their body and in their droppings,” said Tiffany Greenlee, surveillance epidemiologist with WDH.

Greenlee said Wyoming regularly has cases of Salmonellosis in humans from contact with live poultry, especially in springtime. “Unfortunately, last year Wyoming had a significant increase in the number of people infected with Salmonella who were part of larger, multi-state outbreaks involving contact with baby chicks,” she said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017 set a record for the highest number of illness related to baby poultry.

“The germs we’re concerned with are also found where birds live such as in bird cages and coops. If someone puts their hands in or near their mouth after handling birds or touching the bird environment, they can become infected,” Greenlee said. “While pet ownership can be rewarding and there can be great benefits from having a backyard flock of chickens, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from harmful germs.”

WHD offers these tips for handling live birds:

  • 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 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.

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