Chicks May Be Cute, But Can Spread Ugly Disease

April 6, 2022

Chicks May Be Cute, But Can Spread Ugly Disease

As the time of year arrives when the “cheep, cheep” sound of cute chicks becomes more common, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) is reminding people that baby birds can sometimes carry harmful germs even though they look clean and healthy.

“There’s no denying that poultry chicks are cute and appealing. They’re soft too. That’s why many people want to photograph, touch, hold or even snuggle with them. Unfortunately, these charming chicks can also have germs on their bodies and in their droppings,” said Matthew Peterson, surveillance epidemiologist with WDH.

Baby poultry are recognized as a common source of Salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps and other severe symptoms in humans. Some people have an increased risk for severe symptoms: young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

Wyoming regularly has cases of Salmonellosis in humans from contact with live poultry, especially in springtime. “People in Wyoming are regularly infected with Salmonella as part of larger, multistate outbreaks involving baby poultry. It happens every year,” Peterson said.

“The germs we’re concerned with are also found where birds live such as in their cages and coops. If someone puts their hands in or near their mouth after handling birds or touching the birds’ environment, they can become infected,” Peterson said.

Peterson said, “We know pet ownership can be rewarding and there can be great benefits from having a backyard flock of chickens. But there are also steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from harmful germs.”

Tips for handling live birds include:

  • 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 eat or drink around live poultry, touch with the mouth or hold closely to the face.
  • Don’t let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored.
  • Clean equipment or materials used in caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.

Peterson noted a different bird-related disease has been in the news lately as Wyoming is currently seeing highly pathogenic avian influenza spread among both domestic and wild birds. Bird owners should follow guidance from the Wyoming Livestock Board on preventing exposure to wild birds and should report any symptoms among their birds to their veterinarians.  Hunters who handle wild birds should dress game birds in the field when possible, wear gloves when dressing birds, and wash hands with soap and water afterwards. Other individuals should avoid contact with wild birds if possible.