I received an email the other day from someone who destroyed the nest of a bird which was built in a patio cover next to the house. She thought it was a health hazard. That is highly unlikely. Birds, however, do carry a variety of diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans but they are mostly infrequent and rarely serious. Here are a few.
- Psittacosis (parrot fever) – This bacterial infection is typically found in birds like parrots, cockatiels, and macaws, and can be transmitted to humans through exposure to infected bird droppings or respiratory secretions. The disease is occasionally found in pet store workers, bird owners, zoo employees, and veterinarians. It may also rarely be found in farmers and slaughterhouse workers who process poultry, especially turkeys. It is a rare disease in the U.S. with fewer than 10 cases reported per year since 2010. Because of modern laws that regulate the pet bird trade, psittacosis is less common than it used to be.
- West Nile Virus – This viral infection is commonly transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes, but birds are the primary hosts of the virus. There are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat WNV in people. Fortunately, most people infected with WNV do not feel sick. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms. About 1 out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness.
- Salmonella – This bacterial infection is commonly found in birds like chickens and can be transmitted to humans through exposure to contaminated bird droppings or improperly cooked poultry. Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of animals, including birds and are transmitted to humans eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Every year, approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. People complain about the “24 hour flu” but there is no such thing. It is very often food poisoning from uncooked or undercooked chicken. (Never leave it on the kitchen counter to thaw.)
- Campylobacteriosis – This bacterial infection is commonly found in birds like chickens and can be transmitted to humans through exposure to contaminated bird droppings or improperly cooked poultry.
- Histoplasmosis – This fungal infection is commonly found in soil that has been contaminated with bird droppings (which provide a good growing medium for the fungus) and can be transmitted to humans through inhalation of the fungal spores. But birds do not carry the disease.
It’s important to note that the risk of contracting these diseases from birds is relatively low for the general population, and most cases of human infections occur in individuals who work with or handle birds on a regular basis. It’s always a good idea to practice good hygiene when handling birds or cleaning up after them, and to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms of illness after coming into contact with birds or their droppings.
Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz, authored two books on canaries and their diseases, raised nearly 300 birds in his cells, and even developed and marketed medicines for various bird ailments. But he did all this in the federal prison in Leavenworth, KS, not Alcatraz.