New Mexico Department of Health Issues Warning About Salmonella Risk

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Salmonella - Food Safety

The New Mexico Department of Health warns families that baby chicks and ducklings can make their children sick with Salmonella and are not appropriate Easter gifts. Last year 56 people from 21 states, including five New Mexicans, were infected with the same strain of Salmonella, caused mainly by exposure to baby chicks around Easter.

Interviews by state health agencies found that the majority of people infected were exposed to baby birds within several days of becoming sick. Eight of the people were hospitalized. The average age of the cases was 2 years old, though some adults were infected as well.

"We've found that people get sick with Salmonella from baby poultry because they keep the birds inside their homes and allow small children to handle and snuggle with the birds," said Dr. Paul Ettestad, state public health veterinarian at the Department of Health. "Other children didn't handle the baby birds at all, but their parents did not wash their hands properly after handling the birds and gave the infection to their children indirectly."

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The New Mexico Livestock Board recently voted to require feed stores that sell baby poultry to post a sign next to the birds warning people about the risk of Salmonella and to take precautions. The Livestock Board and the Department of Health developed a warning poster and mailed it to more than 50 feed stores in the state that have sold baby poultry in the past.

"While there are many legitimate reasons to purchase baby chicks to raise for food, we are asking feed stores around the state to strongly discourage people from buying baby chicks as pets, especially if they have young children," said Dr. Ettestad. "Many chicks and young birds carry Salmonella in their droppings. It is difficult to know if chicks are carrying Salmonella because they will not usually show signs of illness." Early symptoms of Salmonella in people include fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain. These symptoms develop within one to three days after exposure to baby chicks and their droppings. Other symptoms might be nausea, chills or headaches.

Important preventive measures people can take include the following:

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