Get Healthy Carson City: Proper hygiene key when handling chickens

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This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.

During the spring season, and especially around Easter, live baby poultry may be put on display at stores where children might be able to handle the birds, baby chicks are given as Easter gifts and many area families expand backyard flocks in the spring. Because these birds are so soft and cute, many people do not realize the risks associated with live baby poultry, especially for children.

Each spring, children become infected with salmonella as a result of handling live poultry, but it is important to remember that illness can occur from these baby birds or adult birds at any time of the year. Salmonella is a potentially serious infection with symptoms that include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. The illness usually lasts four to seven days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that last year, there were eight salmonella outbreaks nationwide linked to poultry.

Live baby poultry can carry salmonella and might look healthy, but can still spread the germs to people. Children can be exposed to salmonella by holding, cuddling or kissing the birds and by touching things where the birds live, such as cages, coops or feed and water bowls. Young children are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths.

There are ways to reduce the risk of salmonella infection to you and your loved ones. Don’t let young children or others with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry. Although they are cute, avoid snuggling or kissing the birds, touching your mouth after handling them, or eating and drinking around live poultry. The place for poultry is outdoors. Don’t let the birds inside the house, or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.

Dustin Boothe, Environmental Health Manager for Carson City Health and Human Services, advises people to practice good hand hygiene skills.

“Hand-washing prevents the spread of illness. Make sure you wash your hands with warm water and soap after handling chickens, or any pets for that matter. Make sure your children wash their hands as well,” Boothe says.

Carson City allows people living in residentially zoned properties to keep a maximum of four female chickens or ducks as pets or for an educational project. As raising poultry at home grows in popularity, more people will be exposed to the potential danger of salmonella infection. By taking steps to practice proper hand hygiene after handling birds, caring and feeding, and cleaning their pen, you can minimize these risks for yourself and your family.

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