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More Michiganians are reporting salmonella infections after contact with live baby poultry, state health officials announced Monday.

There have been 20 cases of salmonellosis with live chick or duckling exposure reported throughout the state since March 2, but these numbers are expected to rise, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement. Six people were hospitalized; the reported cases were associated with individuals ranging from younger than 12 months old to 70 years.

“Investigators from several local health departments with salmonellosis cases have visited the feed and farm stores to collect environmental samples for testing in jurisdictions where ill residents purchased baby poultry,” state officials said. “These environmental samples have been tested at the MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories and a number of samples are positive for Salmonella; some of which match the outbreak strain. Testing and a traceback investigation are still in process. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been notified.”

People become infected with salmonella when handling poultry or their cages and coops. Germs can be found on the hands, shoes and clothing of those who handle the birds or work or play in areas where they live and roam. Young children are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing.

“Live baby poultry can carry salmonella and still look healthy. Poultry do not get sick like people do from the bacteria,” said Dr. James Averill, state veterinarian, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “This is why it’s so important for people handling baby chicks and poultry to practice good personal biosecurity such as handwashing because the bacteria may be present.”

Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal cramps. A severe infection requiring hospitalization also is possible. Salmonella can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream as well as elsewhere in the body, health officials said. It can also lead to death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

“While raising baby chicks and having fresh eggs can be fun and educational, poultry owners should be aware that chickens and other birds can carry germs that can impact human health,” said Dr. Eden Wells, MDHHS chief medical executive.

Anyone who believes they have a salmonella infection is asked to immediately contact their doctor or healthcare provider.

To protect against a salmonella infection, health officials suggest tips such as:

Wash hands vigorously with soap and water immediately after touching poultry or any items in their environment, such as cages, coops or bedding

Supervise hand washing for young children after holding baby poultry or touching anything in the birds’ environment

Keep live poultry in their own place outside the home

The CDC also recommends children under age 5, older adults or people who are immune compromised should not handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry.

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