The warning follows multiple reports of Salmonella infections caused by improperly handling live poultry, such as ducklings and chicks, and recent outbreaks of H7N1 low-pathogenic avian influenza reported at a commercial poultry farm in Missouri and another in Texas.
The MDA and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending against buying chicks for children this spring. But for individuals who do buy chicks, the agencies have some advice:
- Purchase chickens only from hatcheries that are certified by the US Dept. of Agriculture’s National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) and have a permit from MDA. The NPIP hatcheries follow strict biosecurity practices, maintain detailed records of where the birds come from and have had their sites and chickens tested for particularly debilitating diseases.
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where poultry live and roam, because chicks and other live poultry can appear healthy and clean while carrying Salmonella. Also, adults should supervise hand washing for young children. Don’t snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry.
- Don’t let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
“The risk of illness from improper handling is much higher this time of year, especially among people not used to handling live birds,” Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder said. “The recent outbreak in Missouri should serve as a reminder to everyone that avian influenza remains a very real threat across the United States. I encourage anyone handling live birds to practice heightened biosecurity to prevent diseases like bird flu from entering their flock.”
The first finding in 2018 of H7N1 occurred at a commercial turkey farm in Jasper County, Missouri. At least 20,000 birds were culled through controlled marketing, which allows poultry infected with or exposed to low-pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) to be moved to market on limited basis. The second detection came during routine, pre-slaughter testing and surveillance for H5/H7 avian influenza strains at a commercial broiler breeder farm in Hopkins County, Texas. Roughly 24,000 birds at the farm were exposed, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) reported.
Meanwhile, Maryland remains under heightened alert for highly pathogenic avian influenza, the MDA said, and poultry owners should implement strict biosecurity measures to protect their flocks. Steps include registering flocks with MDA to receive notices of any AI outbreaks, restricting access to birds and cleaning rigorously.