By Leslie Radford: CNJ staff writer
Seventeen cases of salmonella poisoning in the Southwest since April have been linked to a single New Mexico hatchery, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Department of Health Public Information Officer Deborah Davis declined to release the name of the hatchery or where it is located because she said the department was concerned with harming the business. She said salmonella is a naturally occurring bacteria in poultry and could be found in any bird at any poultry farm.
“We are working with (the hatchery) on educating the public about salmonella poisoning,” Davis said. “Salmonella is not uncommon. It could happen to anyone and come from any hatchery.”
State Public Health Veterinarian Paul Ettestad said all salmonella cases reported to the state are investigated to find the source of the outbreak. He said a few children with the illness had been hospitalized, but have since returned home. No deaths have been reported.
Health officials said they have provided education to officials at the hatchery involved and to the public on preventing the spread of the bacteria.
Ettestad said the department’s investigation traced the outbreak to baby chicks purchased from feed stores from January to Easter.
“Most cases were found in children 1 year of age and younger that contracted salmonella,” he said. “We found that parents were allowing these baby chicks in the confines of their home and around their children, not knowing that they could contract the bacteria this way.”
Salmonella is a bacterial infection that can be contracted from poultry through the bird’s feces or eating undercooked meat, according to Ettestad. The Department of Health reports children, senior citizens and people with weak immune systems are most vulnerable to this infection, which in rare instances, can be deadly.
Symptoms include fever, diarrhea and vomiting.
Health departments in several states started the investigation.
Initially, there were nine cases being investigated, according to a press release from the New Mexico Department of Health. Twenty-five cases of poisoning have been reported in 14 states thus far, Davis said. There is one case each in Curry and Roosevelt counties.
Officials said the public should not be alarmed but suggested taking precautions when handling and cooking poultry.