PhotoPretty much all babies are cute and cuddly-looking, and baby ducks and chickens are no exception. So if you have children who in turn have access to live chicks or ducklings — whether as an early Easter or Mardi Gras gift, via your at-home chicken flock, or the duckpond in your local park — it's almost certain your kids will want to pick them up and play with them, because why not? They're just like adorable little plush-animal toys, except they're actually alive!

Unfortunately, live birds are far more likely than their toy counterparts to host disease-carrying microorganisms, especially salmonella. That's why the Washington State Department of Health released a Feb. 25 announcement warning that “Salmonella risks rise as raising chickens becomes popular family activity.”

Usually, when most people worry about getting salmonella from chicken, they're talking about chicken as a food source. But even handling a live chicken puts you at risk of catching salmonella, if the chicken is also infected.

As the DOH said: “Spring has become a time when people become infected with Salmonella after buying chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry and handling them without properly washing their hands.... Spring is the season when many people who keep chickens or ducks in backyard flocks order baby birds. Children should be supervised carefully, making sure they wash their hands right away after touching these animals or their environments. Adults should make sure kids don’t nuzzle or kiss animals.”

The DOH offers additional safety tips for handling poultry here. Even clean and healthy-looking chicks can have salmonella bacteria on their bodies, which in turn can contaminate everything they touch, including their cages. Children younger than five, elderly people and anyone with a weakened immune system should not handle live poultry at all.

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