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Birds carry transmissible diseases and parasites

Birds carry transmissible diseases and parasites

Bird infestations can cause serious problems beyond just property and structural damage. Birds of all species can be infected with transmissible diseases that can be passed to humans and pets. Special caution should be used when handling dead birds and especially the removal of bird droppings.  In most cases, a qualified professional should be consulted. Pest birds can harbor over 40 types of parasites and their droppings have been associated with more than 60 transmissible infectious diseases (some of which can be fatal). This is why it is extremely important that some form of bird control be used to inhibit large bird infestations.  

Human interaction with most bird species is limited. However, birds such as pigeons, starlings, sparrows, seagulls and geese have learned to adapt to human conditions. These particular species can be found widespread throughout most communities. Birds are the perfect carrier of disease because they can travel such great distances. The droppings from the aforementioned birds can pose a serious health risk for the public. Diseases from birds can be transmitted to human and pets through the following ways:

  • Water and food sources contaminated with bird feces.
    Bird feces can contaminate water sources such as reservoirs and water plants. It's also quite common for food production plants to have bird control issues, where food sources have been exposed to dried bird droppings. Salmonella poisoning cases have been attributed to this.
  • Breathing in fecal particles.
    When bird droppings dry out they can produce an airborne spore when disturbed or broken up. Inhalation of these spores can lead to respiratory diseases, most notably Histoplasmosis, which is discussed below. Dried feces spores can also enter through air ducts and ventilation systems, thus spreading health risks to many humans at once.
  • Handling feces directly.
    Humans cleaning up bird messes can be infected through direct contact if fecal dust or airborne spores happen to contact an open wound, cut or sore on the body.  It is essential that proper clothing is worn and all skin protected when removing or handling dried bird droppings.  
  • Transfer through parasitic contact.
    Pest birds are notorious for carrying parasites like ticks, fleas, mites, bed bugs and other parasitic insects. Parasites bite on birds, the blood transfer carries the disease to the parasite. The parasite now becomes a carrier of disease and can transmit it to humans and pets. Mosquitoes and ticks are well known for this method of transfer. 
Common diseases birds carry

Common diseases birds carry

Histoplasmosis is a respiratory disease that may be fatal. It results from a fungus growing in dried bird droppings that humans can acquire through breathing in these airborne spores. This disease is also carried in bat droppings.
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Avian Bird Flu also known as the H5 virus in birds occur naturally in wild aquatic birds like geese and ducks. Waterfowl birds can become infected with the avian influenza virus in their intestines, but typically do not get sick. The virus can be transmitted to other birds and poultry. The virus can be very deadly among chickens and turkeys. Domesticated birds (chickens, turkeys, etc.) may become infected with avian influenza A viruses through direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry, or through contact with surfaces that have been contaminated with the viruses.
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Candidiasis is a yeast or fungus infection spread by pigeons. The disease affects the skin, the mouth, the respiratory system, the intestines and the urogenital tract, especially the vagina. It is a growing problem for women, causing itching, pain and discharge.
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Cryptococcosis is caused by yeast found in the intestinal tract of pigeons and starlings. The illness often begins as a pulmonary disease and may later affect the central nervous system. Since attics, cupolas, ledges, schools, offices, warehouses, mills, barns, park buildings, signs, etc. are typical roosting and nesting sites, the fungus is apt to be found in these areas. Proper attire and protective clothing should be garnered when working in these infested areas.
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St. Louis Encephalitis, an inflammation of the nervous system, usually causes drowsiness, headache and fever. It may even result in paralysis, coma or death. St. Louis encephalitis occurs in all age groups, but is especially fatal to persons over age 60. The disease is spread by mosquitoes which have fed on infected house sparrows, pigeons and house finches carrying the Group B virus responsible for St. Louis encephalitis.
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Salmonellosis often occurs as "food poisoning" and can be traced to pigeons, starlings and sparrows. The disease bacteria are found in bird droppings; dust from droppings can be sucked through ventilators and air conditioners, contaminating food and cooking surfaces in restaurants, homes and food processing plants. Salmonella poisoning is one of the most reported illnesses in the US.
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Diseases carried by parasites on birds

Diseases carried by parasites on birds

Besides being direct carriers of disease, nuisance birds are frequently associated with over 50 kinds of ectoparasites, which can work their way throughout structures to infest and bite humans. About two-thirds of these pests may be detrimental to the general health and well-being of humans and domestic animals. The rest are considered nuisance or incidental pests. A few examples of ectoparasites include:

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) may consume up to five times their own weight in blood drawn from hosts which include humans and some domestic animals. In any extreme condition, victims may become weak and anemic. Pigeons, starlings and house sparrows are known to carry bed bugs.
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Chicken mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) are known carriers of encephalitis and may also cause fowl mite dermatitis and acariasis. While they subsist on blood drawn from a variety of birds, they may also attack humans. They have been found on pigeons, starlings and house sparrows.

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Yellow mealworms (Tenebrio molitor), perhaps the most common beetle parasites of people in the United States, live in pigeon nests. It is found in grain or grain products, often winding up in breakfast cereals, and may cause intestinal canthariasis and hymenolespiasis.

West Nile Virus is technically not transmitted to humans from birds, humans can get infected by the bite of a mosquito who has bitten an infected bird. The obvious lesson is that the fewer birds there are in any given area, the better. This translates into a smaller chance of an infected bird in that area, a smaller chance of a mosquito biting an infected bird and then biting a human.
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Reference:  Medical News Today
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