AARP Eye Center
While hearing birds chirp in your backyard may be a welcome sign of spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning April 1 about an outbreak of salmonella linked to wild songbirds across the country.
Although birds may appear clean and healthy, there have been reports of pine siskins, a type of finch, infected with the same strain of salmonella found in infected humans.
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The CDC has recorded 19 illnesses across eight states resulting in eight hospitalizations. Infections have occurred in California, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington. But, because the birds can be found throughout the U.S., the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses.
How to Clean Your Bird Feeder
Clean and disinfect your bird feeder and birdbath weekly or when they are visibly dirty. Clean them outdoors when possible. If you clean them indoors, use a laundry sink or bathtub and disinfect that area right after. Don’t clean bird feeders in your kitchen or where food is prepared and stored.
- Scrub the feeder with warm, soapy water to remove the dirt.
- Rinse away soap.
- Soak it in a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach for at least 10 minutes.
- Let it dry before refilling with water or bird food.
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
Sick people range in age from 2 months to 89 years old, with a median age of 16 years. Their illnesses occurred on dates ranging from Dec. 26 to March 16. More recent illnesses may not be reported yet because it usually takes two to four weeks to determine if a person’s infection is linked to an outbreak. The true number of sick people is likely higher than the recorded number because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for salmonella, according to the CDC.
The birds first become infected when they ingest food or water or come into contact with objects contaminated with feces from other infected animals. Humans who don’t wash their hands after touching the infected animals or contaminated bird feeders, birdbaths or pets that have been in contact with the birds are at risk of illness.
Health officials are interviewing people about the animals they had contact with the week before falling ill. Of the 13 interviewed so far, nine reported owning a bird feeder, two reported contact with a sick or dead wild bird, and 10 have pets that had access to or contact with wild birds.