Eight cases of salmonellosis have triggered an investigation by Ohio state officials who have linked them to ducklings and/or chicks sourced from an Ohio hatchery and bought at various agricultural outlets across the state. Health authorities are advising Ohioans to handle chicks and ducklings with care.

The eight infected people live in Licking, Ashtabula, Jefferson, Columbiana, Hamilton, Franklin, Medina and Wood counties. They range from 3 months to 76 years of age. Salmonella Altona was detected in one of the chicks that belonged to one of the infected people.

Salmonella infection, known as salmonellosis, is a bacterial infection of the intestinal tract. Salmonella can cause typhoid fever, gastroenteritis, enteric fever, food poisoning, and other diseases. Human infection usually occurs through contaminated foods, water, meat, poultry and eggs.

Ohio Department of Health Director, Ted Wymyslo, M.D., said:

“I encourage anyone who purchases baby chickens or ducklings to use caution when handling the birds and to always thoroughly wash their hands after touching them.”

The Ohio Departments of Health and Agriculture say they are liaising closely with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and the USDA National Poultry Improvement Plant in response to the outbreak.

Ohio Agriculture Director James Zehringer, said:

“We encourage all agricultural supply stores that sell chickens and ducklings to post information on safe handling techniques of these birds. The CDC worked with the poultry industry and state agencies to offer a consumer information poster which can be downloaded from the CDC, ODH or from the Ohio Department of Agriculture.”

In most of the cases of salmonella infection, the patients said they had been exposed to ducklings and/or chicks bought at different agricultural outlets of a national agricultural feed store that had sourced the baby birds from Mt. Healthy Hatchery, Ohio.

The Ohio Department of Health says the hatchery, as well as the outlets have been working closely with federal and state officials during this investigation. Officials warn that other companies may also have received infected ducklings and chicks.

According to the CDC, there have been 30 salmonella outbreaks linked to chicks and duckling since the 1990s.

Healthy chicks and ducklings may sometimes be infected with salmonella. Ohio health officials advise people to follow these simple precautions:

  • After touching live poultry or anywhere they have been in contact with, wash your hands with soap and warm water. Make sure children wash their hands properly.
  • If there is no soap and water, use a hand sanitizer and then wash with soap and water as soon as you can.
  • Make sure cages, feed, water containers, or any equipment used for raising or caring for live poultry are kept as clean as possible.
  • The following people should not handle live ducklings or chicks – children under 5, elderly individuals, those with weakened immune systems. They should not enter areas where the animals live.
  • Do not eat or drink around live poultry.
  • Do not kiss, snuggle or cuddle live poultry.

Over the last 15 years, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the incidence of salmonellosis in the USA has increased by over 10%.

CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said:

“Although foodborne infections have decreased by nearly one-fourth in the past 15 years, more than 1 million people in this country become ill from Salmonella each year, and Salmonella accounts for about half of the hospitalizations and deaths among the nine foodborne illnesses CDC tracks through FoodNet. Salmonella costs hundreds of millions of dollars in direct medical costs each year. Continued investments are essential to detect, investigate, and stop outbreaks promptly in order to protect our food supply.”

Health authorities say that salmonella is responsible for about $365 million in direct medical costs annually in the USA.

In 2010, salmonella in the USA caused:

  • Over 8,200 infections
  • Nearly 2,300 hospitalizations
  • 29 deaths

The CDC estimates that for every confirmed case of salmonellosis, there are 29 infections in the country (many do not get reported).

Written by Christian Nordqvist