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Oregon Newborn Indirectly Sickened with Salmonella from Backyard Chickens

Posted in Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls,Salmonella on May 14, 2024

Oregon newborn indirectly sickened with Salmonella from backyard chickens suggests that infection can occur, even without direct contact with infected birds.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from January 2023 to October 2023 there were at least 1,072 cases of backyard poultry-associated Salmonella illness recording across 48 states and Puerto Rico. At least 247 of those cases were serious enough to require hospitalization.

Here’s what we know about this particular case.

Newborn Indirectly Sickened with Salmonella

An exclusively breastfed, seemingly healthy, newborn baby boy was born in late October 2023 at a hospital approximately 150 miles away from his parents’ home. After discharge he, mother, and father stayed at a nearby relative’s home the next day.

At just 5 days old, the newborn was brought back to a hospital after experiencing bloody stools and lethargy.

The hospital obtained a stool sample for analysis that revealed the presence of Salmonella Thompson, a pathogenic strain of Salmonella bacteria.

But how?

The infant did not consume anything other than breast milk. Both parents showed no symptoms of Salmonella infection or received a diagnosis of salmonellosis (the illness associated with Salmonella bacterial infections).

Additionally, the genetic fingerprint of the newborn’s sample matched the genetic information of an “unpublished outbreak strain.” One potentially associated with backyard chickens.

Backyard Poultry at Parent’s Home 150 Miles Away Was Suggested Source

About a month before their son’s birth, the family purchased chicks and began raising a small flock of backyard chickens at their home. A home located over 150 miles away from where the newborn was living when he became sick.

Despite both mother and father staying with the newborn at the relative’s home and the child not traveling with them to their backyard poultry pen, the connection was worth investigating.

Reports indicated that twenty-seven days after the newborn’s readmission to the hospital and subsequent discovery of salmonellosis diagnosis, environmental samples at the family’s backyard poultry coop were taken and analyzed.

Nine environmental samples and one sample taken from a chicken’s cloacal were analyzed. Lab analysis revealed that the patient sample contained a Salmonella strain that was a close match to the strains found in the chicken bedding from the family’s poultry coop.

Samples were not collected from the parents, so it is unknown whether they were infected and asymptomatic, or not infected at all.

Investigators Stress that Infants Can Become Infected, Even with Indirect Contact with Backyard Poultry

The CDC has long since warned the public of the dangers poultry pose to babies and children. Salmonella bacteria found in poultry can be easily transmitted to this vulnerable group, as their immune systems have not yet matured to respond to the threat.

The agency has stressed avoiding contact or supervision to help reduce the risk of exposure. However, this new study suggests that infection can occur, even without direct contact between the child and infected birds.

“Even in the absence of direct exposure, backyard poultry might present a risk for salmonellosis to newborns and infants,” concluded a team led by Stephen Ladd-Wilson, of the Oregon Health Authority.

How Was the Newborn Indirectly Sickened by Salmonella?

Without direct contact, how exactly was the newborn indirectly sickened by Salmonella bacteria from backyard poultry?

Parents May Have Been Sick but Asymptomatic

Perhaps the child got it from one or both parents.

“It is possible that one of the parents was asymptomatically shedding the organism and exposed the newborn during or after birth,” Ladd-Wilson’s group theorized.

Without a sample, this cannot be proven, however it is a reasonable guess.

Potential Transfer from Parents’ Clothing

Other speculations include potential transfer from his parent’s clothing or other objects that might have contained traces of Salmonella bacteria.

If the child touched the clothing and then put their hands in their mouth, as babies do, trace amounts of the bacteria may have made its way into the child’s fragile system.

This Case Highlights the Need for Strict Hygiene

This tragic case is just one of many that happen around the country. Minor lapses in hygiene when caring for poultry can have a significant impact. Particularly in families with infants, “whose intestinal flora and immune systems are still developing.”

Backyard Poultry Safety

Researchers suggested not keeping a backyard poultry flock if newborns or small children are in the home, and prevention is always the best option. However, if your household does include backyard poultry flock, a few safety tips can go a long way in helping to prevent illnesses.

Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands with soap and running water after touching backyard poultry or anything in the area that they live and roam.

This includes:

  • After handling food or water containers or other equipment used for poultry
  • After being in areas near poultry, even if you do not touch the birds
  • After collecting eggs

While adults should be able to properly wash their hands, children may need some help. Adults should always supervise handwashing for young children.

If soap and water are not readily available, hand sanitizer can be a temporary solution followed by proper handwashing as soon as possible.

Handle Eggs Safely

Eggs come in contact with poultry droppings and are exposed to potential Salmonella contamination. Therefore, eggs become a major factor when it comes to Salmonella risk.

  • Collect eggs often so that they do not sit in the nest.
  • Keep a clean coop to reduce the amount of poop in their area.
  • Throw away cracked eggs, as bacteria can easily enter a cracked shell.
  • Refrigerate eggs after collection to maintain freshness and slow bacterial growth.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water immediately after handling eggs, chickens, or anything in their environment.

Do Not Kiss Backyard Poultry

They may be adorable. But resist the urge. Do not kiss backyard poultry or snuggle them. Close contact with your face or mouth provides potentially dangerous exposure risks.

Do Not Let Backyard Poultry in the House

Even if these adorable fluffy butts are more like pets than livestock to your family, do not let backyard poultry in the house. Especially in areas where food or drinks are prepared, served, or stored. They can track in harmful bacteria and leave droppings behind, potentially contaminating your home.

Do Not Eat or Drink in Areas Where Backyard Poultry Live or Roam

Eating and drinking in areas where bacteria may be present is always a bad idea. Cross-contamination is a huge risk. Reduce exposure and do not eat or drink in areas where backyard poultry live or roam.

Consider Setting Aside a Pair of Shoes for Backyard Poultry Care

If possible, consider setting aside a separate pair of shoes to wear in the poultry areas. Keep them outside to avoid tracking in potentially harmful bacteria. Small children spend a good amount of time on the floor, playing in their environment. Keeping exposed footwear separate can help reduce the risk of exposure.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like Oregon Newborn Indirectly Sickened with Salmonella from Backyard Chickens, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)