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CDC: Salmonella outbreak among songbirds caused human illnesses

Pine Siskin. Photo by David Mundy

The salmonella outbreak at bird feeders in recent months has sparked an investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 19 people in eight states have been infected with salmonella due to contact with wild birds or bird feeders, and eight people have been hospitalized, the agency said. No deaths have been reported.

The CDC says the infections occurred in California, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington.

As we wrote in late March, the outbreak mostly affected Pine Siskins, goldfinches, and other feeder birds, and it prompted some state wildlife agencies and wildlife rehabilitation groups to encourage people to take down their bird feeders and baths for a few weeks.

CDC encourages several steps to prevent salmonellosis, the disease spread by salmonella bacteria:

  • Always wash your hands right after touching a bird feeder, bird bath, or after handling a bird – even if you wore gloves.
  • Clean and disinfect your bird feeder and bird bath weekly or when they are visibly dirty. Feeders should be cleaned outside your house when possible. If you clean it indoors, use a laundry sink or bathtub, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the area right after.
  • Keep pets away from bird feeders and bird baths and the areas under them.
  • Do not touch or hand-feed wild birds with your bare hands.
  • If you find a sick or dead bird, call your state wildlife agency or wildlife rehabilitator.
  • If you find a sick or dead bird in your yard, remove any bird feeders and baths for two weeks and clean them outdoors.

The agency’s data shows reported illnesses in this outbreak began in late December and continued into mid-March. It’s likely that many more people became sick but recovered without medical care and were never tested for salmonella.

Symptoms of salmonella sickness include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Children younger than 5, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk and may require medical treatment and hospitalization.

Experts recommend cleaning feeders with a 10% household bleach solution (9 parts water:1 part bleach) and removing any spilled and potentially contaminated feed from under the feeder. Clean the feeders, bird baths, and any items contaminated with bird droppings in an outdoor space or in another area of your home that is not used for food preparation or bathing.


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