Though they are cute and soft and associated with the arrival of spring, baby chicks or ducklings can carry harmful salmonella bacteria, health officials warn.

“We strongly discourage giving chicks or ducklings as gifts,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer.

“To prevent possible infection with salmonella bacteria, give your child a stuffed toy animal instead. Anyone who touches a chick or duckling or its environment should immediately wash his or her hands afterwards.”

Children under 5 should never handle baby chicks or other young birds. Young children are most susceptible to infection because they’re more likely to put their fingers into their mouths and because their immune systems are still developing, according to Clark County Public Health.

Others at increased risk include the elderly, persons with sickle-cell disease or HIV/AIDS, and others with compromised immune systems.

Birds should also be kept away from food and drink. Salmonella infection can cause diarrhea, fever, stomach pain, nausea and sometimes vomiting that most commonly starts within 12 to 36 hours after ingestion.