Now that spring is here, and Easter is approaching, Louisville health officials are cautioning people against giving baby chicks, ducklings or other live poultry to children as gifts.
“Baby chicks and ducklings can be so soft and cute, but they can also pose a health risk to young children,” said Dr. Joann Schulte, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness. “Children younger than age 5, whose immune systems are still developing, are especially susceptible to infection from germs commonly associated with live baby poultry, such as salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli,” said Schulte. “Children this age are also more likely to put their fingers in their mouths after handling animals and get infected.”
Salmonella is estimated to cause one million illnesses in the United States each year, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths. In 2016, Louisville had 72 Salmonella cases. Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. However, for some, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. And when severe infection occurs, salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems should not handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry. The CDC further advises:
“As an alternative to giving children live baby chicks or ducklings, adults might consider cuddly stuffed animals, or better yet, why not celebrate the spring and Easter season with outdoor activity-related basket stuffers that encourage children to be active, such as jump ropes, Frisbees or yard games?” said Dr. Schulte.