Giving baby chicks and bunnies as Easter presents to children may be a tradition, but it is not a safe one. The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) advises parents all over the country against giving any live birds to children due to the health risks involved.
“People can be exposed to Salmonella by holding, cuddling, or kissing baby birds or by touching areas where the birds live or roam.” Michelle Fiest, epidemiologist with NDDoH said.
Young children are especially at risk to the disease as their immune systems are not as strong as adults and they are more likely to make put their fingers in their mouths. Multistate outbreaks have occurred every year for the past five years.
Live birds as well as processed poultry products are both capable of transferring the disease to humans and caution should be used when handling both.
Backyard flocks, where chicks are commonly purchased for holiday gifts, are especially risky as their eggs have been determined, through a study conducted by researchers at Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences, to be more susceptible to salmonella. While properly cooking eggs kills the bacteria, the infection can still live on in the chicks.
Inspecting birds for salmonella is not always reliable either, as birds with salmonella may not show symptoms of the infection.
Symptoms of the bacterial infection in humans include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever typically beginning in eight to 72 hours after exposure and last up to seven days, according to NDDoH.