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Salmonella outbreak linked to songbirds

A bird using a bird feeder.

April 12, 2021—Birdwatching has been a popular pastime during the pandemic. But if you keep a feeder to attract birds, you should be aware of a recent salmonella outbreak that has been tied to songbirds.

So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the outbreak has sickened 19 people in eight states. Eight people have been hospitalized due to infections.

Why are birds being blamed?

People affected by the outbreak reported finding dead or sick songbirds, especially pine siskins, before they got sick. Some of these birds have been found to carry the same strain of salmonella that is making people sick.

People are likely getting sick from touching infected wild birds or touching contaminated bird feeders. You can also get salmonella from other things an infected bird has contacted, such as birdbaths, CDC notes. And it's possible for salmonella bacteria to spread from birds to pets, such as cats that roam outdoors.

Be a safer birder

If you keep a bird feeder or a birdbath, follow these tips from CDC:

  • Clean and disinfect your bird feeder or birdbath weekly or when it's visibly dirty. See how to safely clean it.
  • Clean the feeder outdoors—never in a kitchen or other area where food is kept.
  • Always wash your hands right after touching or cleaning a bird feeder or birdbath, even if you wore gloves.
  • Try to keep pets away from bird feeders and birdbaths and the areas under them.
  • Always wash your hands after touching pets or their supplies or disposing of their feces.
  • If you touch or hand-feed wild birds, always use gloves, and then wash your hands right after.

What if you find a sick or dead bird?

Your state wildlife agency may want to test it, so it's a good idea to give them a call. They can also tell you how to safely remove or dispose of the bird.

If you do find a dead bird in your yard, you should remove any bird feeders and baths for two weeks and clean them outdoors before replacing them, CDC advises.

How bad is salmonella? Learn about the symptoms.

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