It’s encouraging to see the number of press reports warning people not to bring home baby chicks or ducklings as Easter presents for kids. The warnings are because of the potential risk of salmonellosis associated with contact with poultry and fowl, particularly among children. Young kids (less than five years of age) are at high risk for this type of infection, and are at higher risk of developing more serious illness and complications. They also tend to be at higher risk for exposure because of the close nature of contact that they may have with pets, or in this case Easter chicks. Add close contact and increased susceptibility to the generally low level of hygiene associated with household animal contact, and you have a perfect recipe for sick kids.
Salmonella carriage is an ever-present concern with chicks and duckings. It doesn’t matter how they were raised or from where they came – you can never know by looking it it whether a baby bird is shedding Salmonella, and you should assume that they all are to be on the safe side.
The CDC has some basic advice on the topic. The key points are:
- Never buy chicks or ducklings on a whim. If in doubt, buy a stuffed animal.
- Never buy chicks or ducklings for kids under five years of age or people with compromised immune systems. These individuals should not have any contact with chicks or ducklings.
- Don’t let these animals roam freely around the house. They’re not house trained and can contaminate the household environment.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after contact with chicks or ducklings.
- Don’t eat around chicks and ducklings, since it increases the chance of inadvertently ingesting Salmonella.
Baby chicks and ducklings don’t make good pets because of the Salmonella risk. They also grow up, and become larger, messier, and noisier birds for which many people are not prepared to care. Don’t buy a baby bird unless you have a low risk household, can properly implement measures to reduce the risk of exposure to Salmonella, and have a plan to properly take care of the bird when it gets older.