Preventing Human Salmonella at Home

March 23, 2015

Growing up with a pet is a common life experience among people of all generations. Whether you enjoyed the company of a dog, cat or even a fish, caring for a pet is often our first memory of friendship and responsibility.

For many parents and children, animals such as chicks, ducklings and other types of live poultry may be considered ideal companions to join their family. While these small animals seem like the perfect pet for your home, it’s important to know the risks they pose for contracting Salmonella or other illnesses.

To keep Georgians healthy, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Outbreak Response and Prevention branch to educate Georgians about the risks of Salmonella from animals such as live poultry and other farm animals.

Chicks, ducklings, geese, turkeys and other live poultry can be a source of human Salmonella infections despite appearing to be healthy and clean. Salmonella germs are shed in their droppings and can easily contaminate their bodies and anything in areas where the birds live and roam.

“Individuals with weak immune systems, children younger than 5 years of age and elderly people should take extreme precaution when handling or touching chicks, ducklings or other live poultry,” said Hope Dishman, DPH outbreak coordinator, Acute Disease Epidemiology Section. “Although they look cute and cuddly, it’s important to avoid the temptation of snuggling or kissing the birds, touching your mouth while handling them or eating and drinking around live poultry.”

Hope advises that the easiest way to avoiding getting sick is washing your hands after handling livestock and limiting your exposure to these animals, especially in areas where you live.

“It may be tempting to allow livestock in the house, but we advise against having them in the home, particularly in bathrooms or areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored such as kitchens and patios,” Dishman said.

Salmonella is considered an enteric disease, or a disease that affects the intestines. When Salmonella germs enter the human body, they can cause sickness, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. In severe cases, Salmonella bacteria can even be life-threatening.

Over the past 10 years, DPH’s Acute Disease Epidemiology Section has documented 22 outbreaks of enteric disease associated with live animal transmission. Of those, 11 were associated with live poultry and included 39 hospitalizations due to Salmonella infections.                                         

DPH and CDC recommend these simple steps to prevent enteric illnesses associated with animal contact:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching or petting animals or touching their environments, especially before eating or putting hands in the mouth.
  • Supervise young children around animals while hand washing.
  • Children under 5 should not have contact with reptiles and amphibians and their cages or tanks.
  • Pet owners should carefully clean an animal’s tank or cage and surrounding areas and be sure to wash their hands after changing the bedding or feeding the animal.
  • People should not eat, drink, or prepare food while touching animals or their environments.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until you can wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

To learn more about how to avoid diseases from livestock, visit CDC’s Zoonotic Disease website. 

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