Easter chicks and bunnies are sometimes given to children as gifts for the holiday, but ahead of Easter weekend, New Mexico officials have cautioned parents to avoid the practice due to concerns of dangerous infections stemming from handling the animals.
Health concerns aside, live animals like Easter chicks make notoriously poor gifts for holidays- particularly for small children. In addition to requiring sometimes years of care on the part of the recipient, gifted animals often wind up surrendered when the novelty wears off. In the worst cases (particularly with high-needs animals like bunnies and Easter chicks) animals can suffer and be neglected when given as an ill-conceived gift.
However, Easter chicks carry their own set of concerns, sparking a wave of warnings from public health officials. In New Mexico, the Department of Health and the New Mexico Livestock Board have teamed up to remind residents that chicken are not just for Easter. In a press release discouraging the practice, the organizations reveal that in the past four years, 15 children have been sickened by salmonella in cases linked to handling Easter chicks- and many of those children were young, a group at the highest risk for serious complications from the infection.
New Mexico DOH veterinarian Dr. Paul Ettestad says that many households are not equipped to properly care for Easter chicks, and that in their excitement, small children could easily be exposed to potentially deadly salmonella infection:
“Children have become infected with Salmonella when parents keep the baby birds inside the house and allow their small children to handle and snuggle with them. In other cases, parents did not wash their hands properly after handling the birds and gave the infection to their children indirectly.”
Ettestad says the department has reached out to businesses that sell Easter chicks, warning them of the dangers:
“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.”
The NM DOH also advises families to have children wash hands with supervision after handling Easter chicks and warns not to allow kids under five to touch the birds.