Those fuzzy Easter chicks can carry the potentially deadly Salmonella bacteria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). They also described the results of their study of the 2012 outbreak which they said represented “the largest number of human illnesses ever linked to contact with live poultry during a single outbreak.”
In the course of the outbreak, 195 people in 27 states were infected with three strains of Salmonella that were ultimately traced back to a single unnamed mail order hatchery in Ohio. However, not everyone would have been aware of the original source of the baby chicks, since some people had picked out their chicks from local feed stores.
About one-third of the victims had to be hospitalized, and one-third of them were younger than age 11. Two people died.
The same hatchery was also linked to a smaller 2011 outbreak.
Some animal experts, such as The Humane Society of the United States, advise people not to buy Easter chicks at all. They point out that it’s actually illegal to sell or keep chickens as pets in some areas.
While that’s true, the laws aren’t always about public health. They’re frequently part of a large number of zoning or home owner’s association bylaws meant to allegedly protect the property value of a neighborhood. Chicken coops can be unsightly, and crowing roosters make a lot of noise.
I might as well admit that I have raised and kept chickens in the past, and it can be a rewarding experience for the right adults who know what they’re getting into. Instead of buying random Easter chicks, I strongly suggest that you buy chicks or pullets that are already sexed and guaranteed to be female.
A female chicken is quiet, friendly, and fun to play with. I have seen single female chickens who enjoy their owners, come running to meet them, and even learn to cuddle with them.
However, the male lives to crow, fight, and indulge in another activity that you can figure out for yourself. He won’t make a good pet, and the noise might annoy close neighbors.
The trouble is that all of those cute day-old baby Easter chicks look the same. My advice: if you don’t have a trusted source to guarantee the sex of the chick, don’t buy it.
As for the risk of Salmonella? It’s very real, but you can bring it home on a lot of things. Other serious outbreaks in 2012 were linked to peanut butter, fruit like mangoes and cantaloupes, pets like hedgehogs and turtles, dry dog food, ground beef and raw tuna (sushi), and even eating in a certain restaurant chain.
The CDC has posted some simple rules to protect you from Salmonella that might be carried by baby Easter chicks. Among their recommendations: Don’t give them as gifts to small children, don’t allow kids under age six to handle them, and don’t let them run around in your kitchen.
And, above all, wash your hands after you handle your Easter chicks. Every. Single. Time.
[photo courtesy “Earthdirt” and Wikipedia Commons]