The first of May I purchased three adorable chicks from our local hatchery in Springfield, Mo., Estes Hatchery. I chose this hatchery partly because of the variety of birds they had to choose from and the fact that they had a good success rate in sexing chicks. (I’d rather not have a rooster.) This week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued this press release: “CDC is collaborating with public health and agriculture officials in many states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Poultry Improvement Plan, and Veterinary Services to investigate an outbreak of human Salmonella Montevideo infections linked to chicks and ducklings from Estes Hatchery in Springfield, Missouri.”
As of July 2012, a total of 66 people in 20 states have been infected, but the bulk of them are in Missouri. The reported illnesses were between Feb. 28 and June 6. Infected individuals range in age from less than a year old to 83 years old, and 35% of the ill were 10 years of age or younger. In 16 of all the cases, hospitalization was required. One death was reported in Missouri, but salmonella infection was not considered a contributing factor in this person’s death.
Although none of my chickens or my human flock (me, my husband and daughters) have shown any signs of illness or infection, I’m still a little concerned that these young chicks might be carriers of the disease, and either expose the older hens to the bacteria or lay eggs might be tainted. So I’ve done some research on salmonella and thought I’d pass on what I’ve learned about how to protect yourself and your flock against this somewhat common, but potentially fatal, disease.
How common are salmonella infections?
Every year, approximately 42,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be many times greater, according to the CDC. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter.
Who is most at risk?
Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis, and are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely to put their fingers or other items into their mouths. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than 5 years old is higher than the rate in all other persons. It is estimated that approximately 400 people die each year with acute salmonellosis.
What are the symptoms?
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, in some cases, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. A hen sick with salmonella will be immediately obvious: “She will be weak, purple-combed, and have watery diarrhea as well as reduced egg production.”
Where does salmonella live?
It’s common for chickens, ducks and other poultry to carry salmonella, a germ that naturally lives in the intestines of many animals and is shed in droppings or feces. Live poultry may have salmonella germs on their bodies (including feathers, feet and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Additionally, the germs can be found on the hands, shoes and clothing of those who handle the birds, or work or play where they live and roam.
Are there long-term consequences to a salmonella infection?
People with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of those with salmonella develop pain in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. This is called reactive arthritis. It can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis that is difficult to treat. Antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person develops arthritis.
The CDC has a few tips on their website for protecting you and your flock:
* Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Avoid touching your mouth before washing your hands. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children. Wash hands after removing soiled clothes and shoes.
* Don’t snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry. (Oops! I’m probably guilty of that one.)
I’m not quarantining my little chicks. I know that there’s always a potential risk of disease with any animal, but sometimes we get a little complacent and neglectful in hygiene when the animal is a pet and considered part of the family. It’s a good reminder that cleanliness is essential for both our health and our flock’s well-being!