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324 salmonella infections linked to pet chicks, ducklings since January

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A microscopic view of salmonella provided by the CDC.

(CNN) — Seven outbreaks of salmonella linked to live poultry in backyard flocks have caused 324 cases of illness in 35 states since January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Sixty-six of the ill individuals have been hospitalized. One person has died, although salmonella was not a factor in the death, the agency said.

Health investigators have interviewed 238 of those who became sick and found most of them had contact with live fowl at home, school and work in the week before their symptoms began. Some of them also said they bought live baby poultry from several suppliers in multiple states. Those include feed supply stores, co-ops, hatcheries and friends, according to the outbreak summary issued Thursday.

“Results from these investigations showed that contact with live poultry in backyard flocks was the likely source of these outbreaks,” the agency said.

Symptoms of salmonella infection include abdominal cramps, fever and sudden onset diarrhea that can last for several days. Nausea, vomiting and headaches may also occur. Most people get better on their own after about five to seven days, although fluids are sometimes needed to treat dehydration.

Children under age 5 are most likely to become ill from exposure to the bacteria. Eighty-eight of the illnesses announced Thursday were in children age 5 or younger. The youngest case was in a child under a year old. Adults over age 65 and those with compromised immune systems are also at an increased risk for illness from salmonella. The oldest ill individual from this group of outbreaks is 92.

The agency is working with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and state public health, veterinary and agriculture officials to investigate the seven separate outbreaks.

All live poultry can carry salmonella, the CDC said, even if the birds look clean and healthy. “The germs can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. People, especially children, can be exposed to salmonella by holding, cuddling or kissing the birds and by touching things where the bird lives, such as cages or feed and water bowls,” the CDC said. Therefore, consumers are advised to wash their hands well with soap and water after touching birds or anything that they have been in contact with. Parents and caregivers should supervise children under age 5 whenever they are touching these animals. The CDC also recommends against letting the animals come inside homes.

“These outbreaks are expected to continue for the next several months since flock owners might be unaware of the risk,” the CDC said.

There are an estimated 1.2 million cases of salmonella illness every year in the United States, including 450 deaths. Infection can occur from other types of live animals such as reptiles as well as from consuming contaminated food.