Salmonella by mail-order

Sometimes patients are amazed that hemoccult cards can be sent by mail.  Now, I learned something new: you can mail-order live poultry and thereby spread salmonella far and wide (NEJM 2012; 366: 2065-73).  This study identified 316 cases in 43 states.

Key findings:

  • 36 hospitalized (23%)
  • 38 had chicks as pets (42%); of these, 22 (69%) said the pet owner was a child <5 years
  • Salmonella enterica serotype Montevideo subtype
  • 81% of infections identified as coming from a hatchery in Western U.S.
  • After identification of problem, owners implemented recommendations which lowered salmonella contamination.  After these measures, outbreak strain still detected in 7% of samples
  • Hatcheries mail live poultry to all 50 states –4 million birds are produced annually for this purpose. Approximately 250,000 birds are shipped each week, usually within 24 hours of hatching; each costing about $5 each.

Because only a portion of salmonella infections are identified with laboratory tests, there are likely thousands more infections associated with this outbreak.  Overall, nontyphoidal salmonella infections are estimated to cause 1 million illnesses, 19,000 hospitalizations, and 370 deaths annually.  Most infections are acquired as foodborne illnesses.  Though contact with animals, as this report indicates, is another mechanism.  These birds can appear healthy and intermittently shed salmonella.

Individuals wishing to reduce their risk of illness should practice careful hand hygiene around animals.  See link for helpful advice:

The poultry business can help by adhering to sanitary practices, by avoiding artificially coloring chicks (which targets children), and by warning recipients of the danger of salmonella infection.

2 thoughts on “Salmonella by mail-order

  1. Pingback: Don’t Touch That Cute Turtle | gutsandgrowth

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