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Bird diseases & their impact on humans

Feral pigeon (Columba livia) have adapted extremely well to life in an urban environment. However the presence of birds can bring many public health risks in terms of diseases which can be passed onto humans.

There are more than 110 pathogens (8 virus, 55 fungi, 41 bacteria, 6 protozoa) reported to affect birds. These zoonoses can be broadly divided into air-borne, food-borne or insect-borne.

Air-borne disease agents can be either pathogenic micro-organisms or dust. Causative agents that can be inhaled and the symptoms exhibited include:

* Chlamydia psittaci – bacteria found in the viscera of infected birds. It is excreted in the faeces and found in nasal and eye secretions, thus contaminating the birds’ feathers, faeces and nesting materials. Human infection is called ornithosis and symptoms include chills, fever, sweating, severe weakness, headache, blurred vision, pneumonia and possible death.

* Histoplasma capsulatum – fungus found in accumulated bird droppings. Most people are unaware of it, but it can lead to

hospitalisation and even death. Symptoms include fever, chest pains, cough, pneumonia and meningitis.

* Allergenic particles – an allergic condition known as bird fanciers flu (extrinsic alveolitis). Occurs in people exposed to airborne antigens in dust inhaled from bird infested areas. Acute can lead to flu-like symptoms of fever, chills, muscle ache, cough, breathlessness. Symptoms are evident four to eight hours after exposure to the allergen and can last for up to a week or more.

Food borne disease organisms known to be carried by birds that can be ingested include:

  • Salmonella spp.
  • Escherichia coli variant 0157
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Vibrio cholerae

Birds have many blood-feeding parasites that lie in their nests and can bite humans. These include: martin bug (Oeciacus), bird mites (Dermanyssus spp) and pigeon flea (Ceratophyllus columbae).

The presence of birds in your home or commercial business presents a serious health hazard to people. From July 2017, under the Housing Rental Standards Regulation 2017, landlords or management companies now have a responsibility to tenants to ensure premises are free of pest species – birds, insects & rodents – thus ensuring a disease and pest free living environment. Contact Ecologica.ie today for site survey & environmental risk assessment on (086) 812 0435.

Mervyn Walsh BA(Hons), HDip.EnvMgt, MRSPH