Beware Easter Photo-Ops and Props Bearing Salmonella


Be careful when handling chicks or bunnies this Easter, as they may transmit Salmonella to you or your loved one.

Before you hand your toddler a fluffy baby bunny or a sweet yellow chick and tell her to snuggle it and “smile!” you might want to think about whether you can keep her hands out of her mouth for the rest of the photo session.

Baby bunnies make the perfect Easter photo-op prop, but they also often carry Salmonella, a bacterium that can cause serious gastrointestinal distress and sometimes even life-threatening illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Salmonella can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps in infected patients. “Infants, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness,” the CDC warned in an Easter-related public statement about handling baby chickens. “When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death,” the CDC warned.

As far back as 1955, doctors were noting a seasonal spike in salmonella-related gastroenteritis around Easter-time and blaming local, cuddly livestock for the problem. In a July 1955 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a team of doctors wrote that they believed “[an] unusual outbreak of salmonellosis traceable to chicks that were distributed at Easter-time by food stores as a means of publicity” was caused by a specific strain of the bacteria, S. typhimurium, that nearly 100 children ingested after handling those baby chickens. “The chicks under suspicion were distributed just before Easter,” the team observed. They went on to note that at the time, Salmonella infections were not often reported, nor were the potential sources of these infections traced. However, they added, the number of cases tallied annually in Minnesota, at least, was rising.

Today, it is commonly accepted within and outside the medical and scientific communities that rodents and poultry can carry multiple strains of Salmonella in their guts and pass those bacteria along in their fecal matter. Once the fecal matter is in the living area with the animal, it often gets on fur or feathers, where the bacteria may remain even if the animal is washed and appears to be clean. “The germs can also be found on the hands, shoes, and clothing of those who handle [the animals],” the CDC warned.

But the Easter bunny and his feathered friends are not the only potentially infected creatures or seasonal items making their debut this time of year, however. The Michigan State University Extension issued its annual Easter-egg warning in early April this year, noting that cracked eggs hidden for egg hunts should not be eaten, nor should hardboiled eggs that had been left out for more than two hours. Furthermore, “if you hide eggs, avoid areas where eggs might come in contact with dirt, pets, wild animals, birds, reptiles, insects, or lawn chemicals,” the extension spokesman added. The CDC also issued a long list of risky Easter and seasonal practices, including handling reptiles like turtles, small birds, lambs, and pigs, all of which make regular appearances in holiday- and spring-themed children’s photography sessions.

Can’t resist that furry or feathered “friend” despite the risks? Make sure you or anyone handling these fuzzy creatures washes their hands thoroughly with soap and water right after handling the animal. Young children, in particular, should change clothes after playing with the animals since the bacteria could be transferred from the animals to clothing, and, from there, into the child’s mouth during normal activity. Although hand sanitizer is a good option if no soap and water is available, anyone handling animals should wash their hands thoroughly “as soon as they are able,” the CDC notes.

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