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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington, Oregon, and Idaho health and agriculture officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of salmonellosis related to chicks. In the past two months, at least 12 people in Washington, Oregon and Idaho have been infected with Salmonella Ohio, a rare strain of this bacterium. At least nine of those infected became sick after handling chicks, or being in areas where chicks were present. This is the fifth year in a row that clusters of illness have been detected in Pacific Northwest residents who handled chicks, which are sold seasonally in feed stores or by mail. The Washington State Department of Health is working with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Oregon Department of Human Services and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare on this investigation.
Many healthy animals may harbor bacteria that are harmful to humans. Proper hand washing with soap and warm water after handling chicks and other animals is the most important way to prevent infections with Salmonella and other bacteria. Another prevention technique is to supervise children so that they do not nuzzle or kiss chicks, fowl and other pets or animals.
"Animals that are known to carry bacteria that can cause human illness are not appropriate pets for young children. Because animals, including birds, may spread bacteria or other types of infection, it is extremely important for people of any age to wash their hands after handling animals or being in contact with an environment where animals are present," said Dr. Jo Hofmann, state epidemiologist for communicable disease. "Children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems must be especially careful since they are most likely to become seriously ill if infected with Salmonella."
Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection that can cause severe diarrhea, fever, chills and abdominal discomfort. People are most often infected by eating food or drinking water contaminated with Salmonella or by contact with infected people, animals, or the environment of infected animals. Animals often infected with Salmonella include turtles, iguanas, other reptiles, cattle, chicks, ducklings and other birds.
The Washington Departments of Agriculture and Health are working with hatchery operations and feed stores to identify additional ways to minimize exposure to Salmonella as well as provide hand wash notices and other reminders for the general public.