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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Easter Chicks and Ducklings: Cute Presents Could Carry Dangerous Salmonella

April 2, 2007

WOOSTER, Ohio — Chicks and ducklings can bring smiles to kids this Easter season, but they could also carry something not so cuddly into your home: Salmonella infection, an illness that is particularly dangerous to young children.

So says Jeff LeJeune, an Ohio State University veterinary researcher with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster. He explained parents need to be aware of the risks associated with handling young poultry or fowl and make sure everyone in the household follows the appropriate measures to avoid bacterial infection. Those include avoiding contact with feces; keeping birds away from areas where food is stored, prepared or eaten; and washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 81 people in 22 states fell ill last spring after contracting Salmonella from chicks. The record three outbreaks occurred around Easter, and at least some of the cases were believed to have stemmed from birds given as gifts.

LeJeune added it’s recommended to keep children under five years of age from touching the birds.

“Children under five are almost four times more likely to get Salmonella than older children and adults,” said LeJeune, whose lab studies foodborne-pathogen contamination in animals and vegetables. “And kids younger than one are 11 times more likely to become sick with Salmonella. Young children should avoid contact with these birds, as they tend to have frequent hand-to-mouth activity and are less likely to wash their hands adequately after touching the birds.”

According to CDC, an estimated 1.4 million cases of salmonellosis occur each year in the United States. Most infections are from food sources, but live animals — especially reptiles and birds — can carry Salmonella as well.

Not only children are at a higher risk of getting salmonellosis and experiencing more severe illness, LeJeune said. The elderly and those with compromised immune systems are also more susceptible to this disease, which typically causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection.

Most people infected with Salmonella recover without treatment. However, in some cases the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream and then to other parts of the body, increasing the risk of death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. It is estimated that approximately 600 people die each year from acute salmonellosis in the United States.

“People who choose to give Easter chicks or ducklings to their kids should know that many of these animals show no signs of being sick when they have Salmonella,” pointed out LeJeune, who works in OARDC’s Food Animal Health Research Program and is also a specialist with OSU Extension. “These tiny birds will grow up rather quickly, so people should carefully consider what they are going to do with them before they make the decision to buy them or accept them as gifts.”

Something else to keep in mind are the laws governing the sale of chicks. In Ohio, it is illegal to sell or give away poultry younger than four weeks of age in lots of less than six.

LeJeune also said doctors and other health care workers should be on the alert for illnesses caused by young birds during this time of the year.

OARDC ( and OSU Extension ( are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (


Mauricio Espinoza
Jeff LeJeune