Rare Salmonella Spread Infects Newborn Baby

Outbreaks of Salmonella infection linked to backyard poultry have been well documented, but a recent Oregon public health investigation highlights the risks of home chicken flocks for newborn babies.

An Oregon Health Authority (OHA) report in today’s edition of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) details an investigation into a case of salmonellosis – the disease caused by Salmonella bacteria – in a newborn whose parents kept backyard poultry.

OHA and Crook County epidemiologists investigated the case as part of a routine, multi-state review of backyard poultry-associated salmonellosis outbreaks reported to CDC from across the country during 2023.

According to the report, the baby boy was born at a hospital about 150 miles away from his parents’ home. The newborn was discharged with his mother to a relative’s home the day after his birth, but four days later was readmitted to a second hospital with bloody stool and lethargy, prompting health care providers to collect a stool sample for analysis. The sample tested positive for a strain of Salmonella known as Thompson.

Neither parent had symptoms of salmonellosis, nor had they been diagnosed with the disease. However, the baby’s father, who tended the family’s backyard poultry at the family’s home 150 miles away, was present at the hospital during the child’s birth and stayed with the child and the child’s mother at the relative’s home when the baby fell ill.

The newborn had not traveled to the home where the backyard poultry were kept during the time between his birth and his hospital admission for his illness.

Nearly a month after the newborn was admitted to the hospital with salmonellosis symptoms, state and county epidemiologists collected environmental samples from the chicken bedding in the family’s backyard poultry coop, where the child’s father had previously had contact. Two of the samples matched the Salmonella Thompson strain found in the child.

Paul Cieslak, M.D., medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations at OHA’s Public Health Division and co-author of the MMWR article, said epidemiologists don’t know the exact mechanism by which the newborn was exposed to the Salmonella Thompson strain. But it’s telling that the newborn’s family started keeping backyard poultry only about a month before the child’s birth.

“It’s possible one of the parents was shedding the organism even though they weren’t showing symptoms and exposed the baby during or after his birth,” Cieslak said. “The bacteria also could have been carried from the family home to the newborn on clothes, shoes or other belongings. Once it’s on surfaces, it can be transported and transmitted fairly easily.”

The case is a strong reminder about the importance of hygiene when tending backyard poultry, “especially when persons at risk for exposure are newborns and young infants whose intestinal flora and immune systems are still developing,” the article’s authors wrote. “In addition to adhering to recommended hygiene practices, families contemplating raising backyard poultry should consider the potential risk to newborns and young infants living in the household.”

The CDC has the following recommendations for backyard flock owners:

  • Always wash hands with soap and water immediately after touching backyard poultry, their eggs or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Consider having hand sanitizer at your coop.
  • Don’t kiss or snuggle backyard poultry, and don’t eat or drink around them. This can spread Salmonella germs to your mouth and make you sick. Keep your backyard flock and supplies you use to care for them (such as feed containers and shoes you wear in the coop) outside of the house. You should also clean the supplies outside the house.
  • Always supervise children around backyard poultry and make sure they wash their hands properly Don’t let children younger than 5 touch chicks, ducklings or other backyard poultry. Young children are more likely to get sick from germs such as Salmonella.
  • Collect eggs often. Eggs that sit in the nest can become dirty or break. Throw away cracked eggs. Germs on the shell can more easily enter the egg through a cracked shell. Rub off dirt on eggs with fine sandpaper, a brush, or a cloth. Don’t wash eggs because colder water can pull germs into the egg. Refrigerate eggs to keep them fresh and slow the growth of germs. Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm, and cook egg dishes to an internal temperature of 160°F to kill all germs.
  • Call your health care provider right away if you have any of these severe symptoms:
    • Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102°F.
    • Diarrhea for more than three days that is not improving.
    • Bloody diarrhea.
    • So much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down.
    • Signs of dehydration, such as not peeing much, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up.

The article’s lead author was Stephen Ladd-Wilson, Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section, OHA. Other co-authors included Karen Yeargain, Crook County Health Department; Samuel Myoda, Ph.D., and Mansour Samadpour, Ph.D., Institute for Environmental Health Laboratories, Seattle; and Karim Morey, Oregon State Public Health Laboratory, OHA.

Source: Oregon Health Authority

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