Veterinary officials looking at hatchery’s source flocks
Federal and Alberta provincial health and veterinary officials are probing almost three dozen cases of salmonella poisoning across three provinces, tied to handling of live baby chickens.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said Monday it’s so far investigating 17 cases of illness in people in Alberta, 13 in British Columbia and four in Saskatchewan.
In all cases, PHAC said, the people are reported to have had contact with live baby poultry — and, in most cases, live baby chickens from a specific hatchery in Alberta.
PHAC emphasized Monday the risk to Canadians is “low,” but urged people who’ve had contact with live poultry to “take precautions to protect their health.”
Contact with live poultry can be a source of salmonella entereditis, even if a bird appears healthy and clean, PHAC said. The infection can be picked up from the bird, its droppings or from “environments where birds have been.”
There’s always a low “base level” for the chance of salmonella infection from handling live birds, according to Dr. Gerald Hauer, the province’s chief veterinarian in Edmonton.
In this instance, however, Hauer said he hasn’t previously seen such a spike in human cases, and “something’s happened to make this (level) go up.” There was no change in the hatchery’s suppliers leading up to this outbreak either, he said.
There’s no additional risk to consumers of properly prepared eggs and poultry, he said, but people working around baby chicks need to take care to avoid infections.
PHAC urged anyone in contact with live birds to always wash their hands “immediately after handling birds, cleaning up after them or being in an area where birds have been.”
Alberta Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development is leading the animal health investigation and is “working closely” with the unnamed hatchery to determine the source of the infection, PHAC said.
Provincial officials will be sampling birds and the environments where they’ve been, Hauer said, and will run genetic analysis of the salmonella bacteria, in an effort to learn where the hatchery picked up an increased infective load.
Neither PHAC nor Hauer would name the hatchery or its general location, but PHAC said the hatchery will be directly notifying customers who have ordered live baby poultry dating back to March 1.
People particularly at risk for infection with salmonellosis from live chicks include children five years of age and under, pregnant women, the elderly and those with weaker immune systems.
Young children, whose immune systems are still developing, are at higher risk of infection, PHAC said, because they often enjoy handling and interacting with live baby poultry and may not wash their hands before putting their fingers or other contaminated items in or near their mouths.
AAFRD, in a recent posting on safe handling of live birds, recommended those at risk not handle or touch live poultry at all, and urged adults to help kids wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water if they touch live birds or anything else in spots where birds have been.
Anyone handling live chicks should keep their faces away from the chicks and should not “snuggle or kiss” the birds, AAFRD said. Only one chick should be handled at a time, and held with both hands, “but be careful not to squeeze.”
People handling chicks should also keep their hands away from their faces while handling chicks, and until the hands are washed, the department said.
Live poultry and poultry equipment should also be kept outside the home, and away from places where people eat or make food.