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Do Birds Cause Disease

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  • 10-08-2022
Do Birds Cause Disease

An important question for property owners is: do birds cause disease. If you have a bird pest problem, we look at the dangers of not getting it solved by professional bird controllers.

Wild birds and bird droppings carry diseases that affect human health, causing lifetime illness and death in some cases. Avian diseases cause respiratory infections and widespread disease across the UK, but what are the symptoms and can they be stopped? 

Disease Associated with Birds

Infected birds pose a threat to those with pre-existing chronic diseases and immunodeficiency, but affected birds don't typically carry any symptoms. This means those with weakened immune systems can be around pet birds or sick or dead birds and catch bird diseases without realising it.

Across the UK, many common bird species can carry diseases, infectious particles and harmful lice, mites and fleas. When these are left untreated and allowed to spread, such infections can easily spread through human populations.

Illnesses spread from sick birds are called zoonotic diseases, which cover any disease transmitted from animal to human. Zoonotic diseases can vary from avian tuberculosis, ornithosis, Lyme disease, campylobacterosis and escherichiosis, among more.

Many birds spread disease through their droppings in and around their roosting sites, which is why managing bird population numbers in urban cities is vital. Keep reading this article as we discuss some common and rare diseases spread by infected birds and how to prevent transmission to humans. 

What is Psittacosis?

Psittacosis is a bacterial infection birds can transmit to humans. This is a rare disease that was first spread by parrots, budgies, lorikeets and other birds similar to those. Due to this, the condition was given the name "parrot fever" in many countries. 

What are the symptoms?

After you have been in contact with a bird infected with Psittacosis, you may start to develop flu-like symptoms after five days, but it can take up to four weeks for the disease to manifest. As this is a respiratory disease, you can also experience symptoms like: 

  1. Fever
  2. Chills
  3. Muscle Aches
  4. Chest Pains
  5. Breathlessness
  6. Headaches

Other respiratory symptoms can arise, with more clinical signs being noted in weaker people. In severe cases, you can develop pneumonia, encephalitis (brain inflammation) and myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation). When this is left untreated, it can lead to liver and kidney damage and even meningitis. 

Do Birds Cause Disease

How is it spread?

This disease is spread when a bird harbours the disease and a person inhales the bacteria. This comes from bird faeces, feather dust and mucus from infected birds. While several diseases are passed like this, Psittacosis can also be spread from person to person, although this is rarer.

It can also be spread from mouth-to-beak contact or kissing with birds and handling their feathers during washing or carrying. For this reason, good hygiene is essential to pet bird owners as they are at an increased risk. 

Who is at risk?

While many people are at risk of this disease, bird owners and breeders are the most of risk. Vets and those whose occupations it is to care for birds are also at risk as they are touching and handling birds more often.

This also extends to laboratory workers, farmers, taxidermists, pet shop employees and zoo workers. Anyone who is likely to handle sick birds should take extra medical precautions. 

How is it prevented?

While many birds can carry this disease without any visible symptoms, some birds die as a result or will have some of the following symptoms: 

  1. Ruffled feathers
  2. Poor feeding
  3. Weakness
  4. Diarrhoea
  5. Runny eyes

Any bird owners who notice these symptoms or more should have their pet checked out by a vet as soon as possible. It is likely they will be placed on antibiotic treatment, and you should disinfect all surfaces and their cages.

If you believe your bird has suffered this disease, you should take precautions to prevent yourself from suffering from the same infectious agent. Tests can be bought as a pre-purchased examination when your bird has any of the signs of Psittacosis. 

Your own health is of importance, and you should wash your hands, ensure you're cleaning house bird cages as regularly as possible and not let droppings build up or become airborne. Some birds are simply carriers of such diseases and must be treated carefully. 

OTHER DISEASES THAT CAN BE SPREAD BY BIRDS

Other Diseases that can be spread by birds

Most birds pose no threat to humans, even when carrying disease. Avian diseases are not deadly to many people, causing flu-like symptoms for a few weeks and nothing more.

That being said, there are some common infections carried by birds that can cause health complications in people of all ages. Here is our list of the more common infections spread by birds, but there are many more that could affect you. 

Cryptococcosis 

Cryptococcosis is a respiratory illness that can cause nausea, abdominal pain and watery diarrhoea in humans after being passed from poultry such as turkeys and chickens.

This disease is found worldwide and is caused by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans, meaning humans can develop the illness when they inhale fungal spores from bird droppings.

As chicken and pigeon droppings collect, it becomes easier to ingest these protozoal oocysts, with an incubation period between three and seven days. Many birds do not become sick because of this disease but can spread it through their feaces and dried droppings.

Those with lowered immunity or HIV-infected individuals are at higher risk of contracting more severe symptoms. This condition typically begins in the lungs (pulmonary symptoms) and then can spread to the urinary tract, brain, bones and skin, giving the sufferer chest pains and ongoing coughing.

A doctor can administer antibiotics, but those with weaker immune systems should receive specialised care for longer periods. 

Histoplasmosis

Similar, Histoplasmosis is another fungus-based disease, typically spread to humans from contaminated soil with bird droppings. The Histoplasma fungus grows on bird faeces, meaning buildings where pigeons and other bids collect are going to be hotspots.

This means that farmers and landscapers are more at risk of developing this disease or anyone who is routinely around birds, dirt and their droppings. Thankfully, most people will not be severely affected by this condition, but those with weakened immune systems will be. 

Symptoms can range from:

  1. Chills
  2. Headache
  3. Fever
  4. Dry Cough
  5. Tiredness
  6. Chest Pain

People have also been known to experience a rash or joint pain with this disease, and people with pre-existing conditions can develop chronic Histoplasmosis. 

bird-borne illnesses

ENCEPHALITIS VIRUSES

More common bird-borne illnesses are those that cause encephalitis. This can be Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile virus or St Louis Encephalitis.

Jays, Finches, Starlings and Swallows are the most common birds to carry such diseases, although this is transported mainly by mosquitos mainly. Any mosquitoes taking blood from an infected animal can spread it to their next victim.

Although many people are affected by mosquitos and other biting insects each year, not everyone who is bitten by an infected mosquito will catch the virus. Encephalitis can have varying severity depending on the individual, with relative risks for children and older adults.

As this is transmitted to humans via mosquito, you will know when you have been bitten, and you could develop difficulty focusing and become lethargic. Those with chronic diseases have the typically highest risk of developing worse conditions. 

More symptoms include: 

  1. High Fever
  2. Vomiting
  3. Headaches
  4. Stiff Joints

In more extreme cases, you would experience:

  1. Tremors
  2. Coma
  3. Convulsions

If you believe you have been bitten by an infected mosquito, you should look for these vague symptoms, sometimes akin to the flu. Contact your family doctor for further investigation. 

COLIBACILLOSIS

Colibacillosis is one of the common diseases found in birds, being a form of Escherichia coli infection (E.Coli). E.Coli is located in the intestinal tracts of animals, like Salmonella.

This can be spread through eating contaminated food with a virulent strain, manifesting in fevers and diarrhoea in humans. Due to the many strains of E.Coli, you can also experience shock, purpura and dysentery for less common types of E.Coli.

After ingesting the contaminated foods, the incubation period for most E.Coli variants is 12 hours to 5 days. You will begin to notice symptoms in a few days, with the diarrhoea being treatable. If you develop further symptoms, you will require antibiotics and potential hospitalisation, depending on your reaction. 

AVIAN TUBERCULOSIS

Similar to human and bovine tuberculosis, this is a disease caused by the bacterium mycobacterium avium, which causes a chronic condition that manifests as tubercular nodes.

When humans are infected, wound infections will swell with lymph nodes and can be incredibly severe in those with compromised immune systems. This is transferred to humans through ingesting food and water contaminated from bird faeces.

Birds with this infection will experience weight loss, dull feather colouring and increased urine output, so those with pet birds should be wary of those symptoms.

Many birds infected with mycobacteria pose a potential danger to humans and require to be put to sleep in most situations. M.Avium is resistant to antibiotics, so it will not respond to regular treatment, and many sufferers must have surgical excision of the infected lymphs. 

NEWCASTLE DISEASE - Do Birds Cause Disease

NEWCASTLE DISEASE

This severe form of respiratory disease is caused by a paramyxovirus, which can infect and kill entire flocks of birds. This disease shows itself differently in humans compared to poultry, with humans experiencing conjunctivitis in the eye.

This can fade without treatment within ten days, and the infected may experience swelling and discomfort in the affected eyes. You can buy ointments and eye drops to reduce swelling, but this will pass on its own, sometimes without the infected individual realising they contracted Newcastle Disease. 

SALMONELLOSIS

Salmonella comes in many variants, affecting birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. This bacteria lives in the gastrointestinal tract. Interestingly, very few salmonella serotypes are pathogenic and cause illness in humans. The most common symptoms are: 

  1. Vomiting
  2. Diarrhoea
  3. Fevers
  4. Headaches
  5. Weakness

Many cases of Salmonella are picked up via faecal-oral, meaning food has been ingested that came into contact with contaminated faeces. Many people will not experience severe symptoms from this disease, with it passing in a few days. 

CHLAMYDIOSIS

Despite it's similar name, this isn't the same organism responsible for the sexually transmitted disease, chlamydia infection. This bacterial organism affects over 100 avian species globally and is typically spread to humans through inhaling faecal dust.

Carrier birds commonly carry this disease, but this organism can live on clothing and equipment for extended periods.

Typical treatments consist of microlides and tetracycline, but this is not recommended for pregnant women or children. You should need multiple tests on your bird to accurately determine whether they are suffering from this disease. 

AVIAN INFLUENZA - Do Birds Cause Disease

AVIAN INFLUENZA

Avian influenza is one of the most common bird diseases spread, with the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) affecting humans. Every human who has contracted this disease has come into close contact with birds or bird secretions, and passing from human to human isn't as common. Those infected can experience the following symptoms:

  1. Sore throat
  2. Fever
  3. Cough
  4. Chest Pain
  5. Vomiting
  6. Diarrhoea

After the incubation period of 3-7 days, the sufferer will experience pneumonia in many cases. The death rate for humans currently sits at 40%, but the disease is incredibly rare in many countries. 

Birds and their droppings can carry over 60 diseases.

However, there are many more diseases to be concerned about with birds. There are over 60 different diseases, either birds or their droppings can pass to humans, with residential areas being an area with airborne pathogens spreading much more easily.

It's important not to allow faecal matter to grow and mould to set in, as this can cause more problems. Clean out your pet bird's cage as often as you can. Bird flu is one of the worst diseases birds can spread to humans, but there are many illnesses and diseases spread by house sparrows, house finches, pigeons, herring gulls and more across the UK. 

This is why it's important to deter them from your home and prevent them from making it one of their nesting sites. Birds are a continued pest across the UK, affecting businesses and private properties with their destructive nature.Pet birds are the most likely to spread disease to humans.

People who own a bird or someone with a chronic disease (HIV-infected individuals, organ-transplant recipients, people receiving chemotherapy) should talk to both their physician and veterinarian about protecting themselves against bird diseases.

A veterinarian experienced with sick birds can conduct diagnostic tests, looking in faeces for a bacterium that could harm you or your pet bird. If you notice yourself, your bird or other family members coming down with or experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should contact your family doctor as soon as possible.

It's likely your pet bird is not experiencing any symptoms but has passed a serious condition onto you, so you should look for a weight loss despite a good appetite and a behaviour change.

Remember that simple hygiene, in most cases, can help stop the spread of diseases that birds and humans share.  If you are suffering from birds as a pest at your home, please contact our team before the problem gets out of hand. 


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