ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Maryland Department of Agriculture warns citizens that incorrectly handling live poultry, including chicks and ducklings, can cause serious illnesses, and the department strongly discourages citizens from buying chicks as presents for children this spring. This warning comes after a recent outbreak of H7N1 low-pathogenic avian influenza was detected in a commercial poultry flock in Jasper County, Missouri.
“We ask people to think twice before bringing baby chicks and other live poultry into their homes. The risk of illness from improper handling is much higher this time of year, especially among people not used to handling live birds,” said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “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.”
Tips for Handling Live Poultry
Contact with live poultry can be a source of human Salmonella infections, which can cause a diarrheal illness in people that ranges from mild to life threatening. Each spring, chicks are specially hatched in large quantities and then shipped around the country – a practice that makes them much more prone to disease.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture joins the Centers for Disease Control in recommending against buying chicks for children this spring. For those who choose to purchase chicks, however, here are some tips:
- Purchase chickens only from hatcheries that are certified by the U.S. Department 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 their chicks come from, and have had their sites and chickens tested for particularly debilitating diseases.
- Be aware that chicks and other live poultry can appear healthy and clean while carrying Salmonella
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where poultry live and roam. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
- Do not allow children younger than age 5, elderly persons, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
- Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.
- 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.
- Don’t snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry.
Even if the chicks are handled properly, parents should give serious thought to what they will do with the chicks after the season and if they are prepared to raise a chicken. Visit the department website for “6 Steps to Keeping Poultry Health.” Also note that any backyard flock owners with five or more birds must register their location with the department so that the agency can contact them immediately when a potential disease is identified. To register your flock, visit the department’s website.
Click here for more information about Salmonella risks and handling chicks this spring.
Steps to Protect Flocks from “Bird Flu”
In Maryland, we are still in heightened alert for High Path Avian Influenza better known as “bird flu.” If any poultry become sick, especially with upper respiratory signs (sneezing, watery eyes, trouble breathing, not eating or drinking), call the Maryland Department of Agriculture Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810.
Protect your flock with the following biosecurity practices:
- Clean rigorously. Wear clean clothes, scrub your shoes with disinfectant, and wash your hands thoroughly before entering your bird area. Clean cages daily. Change food and water daily. Clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds or their droppings, including cages and tools. Remove manure before disinfecting. If you have been near other birds or bird owners, such as at a feed store, clean and disinfect your car and truck tires, poultry cages, and equipment before going home
- Buy new birds from reputable hatcheries. Keep them separate from your flock for at least 21 days. Start with healthy birds and keep them healthy!
- Restrict access to your property and your birds.
- If you show birds at exhibitions, be sure to have them tested first, and keep these birds separate from your flock for at least three full weeks after.
- Register your flock with MDA. If there is a bird flu outbreak in your area, we will let you know and tell you how you can protect your birds. To register, visit www.mda.maryland.gov or call 410-841-5810.
- Report sick birds to MDA at 410-841-5810. We can help you find out if your birds have the flu and tell you what your options are if they do.
Click here for the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services Biosecurity Guide.
For more information about bird flu, visit: www.mda.maryland.gov/avianflu