No deaths were reported, but at least 51 people have been hospitalized for the bacterial illness, New Mexico Department of Health officials said. About 60 percent of those infected were children 10 years old or younger.
State and federal officials traced the source of the outbreak strain of Salmonella typhimurium to a single duckling pen at the Privett Hatchery, said Paul Ettestad, New Mexico’s public health veterinarian.
The hatchery sells baby chicks, ducklings and other live baby birds to agricultural feed stores and other mail-order customers, shipping the birds by overnight mail in boxes, he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people sickened in the outbreak reported buying baby birds at one of 113 feed stores nationwide.
“No matter where you purchase these birds, you have got to be careful,” Ettestad said. “When you buy baby poultry at the feed store – even when they look healthy – you need to assume they could have salmonella.”
Ettestad urged people who purchase baby poultry to keep the birds outdoors and to take precautions such as hand-washing and changing soiled clothes before returning indoors.
Children under 5, older people and those with compromised immune systems should avoid contact with live birds, he said.
Early symptoms of the illness include fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain that develop one to three days after exposure to baby chicks or their droppings. Other symptoms include nausea, chills and headaches.
Officials at Privett Hatchery did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
The CDC said in a written statement that owners of Privett Hatchery have cooperated fully with health officials investigating the outbreak.
Privett removed all poultry from the pen where the outbreak strain of salmonella was found, Ettestad said. Privett also has included the outbreak strain in a commercially produced vaccine given to all birds at the hatchery, he said.
Other steps taken by Privett include decontaminating all eggs before they enter the hatchery and controlling movements of employees to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
A multistate salmonella outbreak last year linked to Sunland Inc., a Portales peanut butter manufacturer, forced the plant to close for several months. Peanut butter production resumed there in May. That outbreak involved a strain of salmonella unrelated to the new outbreak linked to the Privett Hatchery, Eddestad said.
People made sick in the new outbreak reported the onset of illness between March 4 and July 28, the CDC reported. Patient ages ranged from less than a year to 87.
The most recent New Mexico infection was reported July 8 but the possibility remains for additional cases, Ettestad said.
“I’m still concerned that there are people who have these birds in their homes and that they still have salmonella, so there could potentially be more cases,” he said.
n Wash your hands after touching live baby birds or areas where they live.
n Don’t let baby birds inside the house or areas where food is stored or prepared.
n Don’t snuggle or kiss baby birds.
n Don’t let children younger than 5, the elderly or people with chronic illnesses touch live poultry.
n See a physician if you experience abdominal pain, fever or diarrhea.