It may be hard to believe, but your bird can make you sick. There
are several diseases that birds can transmit to people (these are
called zoonotic diseases). For your own health, it is important
to understand how to prevent transmission of these diseases.
Simple hygiene can prevent most of the diseases that birds and
humans share. If you are conscientious about cleaning up after
your bird and always wash your hands after handling your bird or
his bowl and toys, it's very unlikely that you will become ill.
Of course, not every bird harbors such infections, but it's
always best to be safe.
Who's at Risk
The risk of getting a disease from your bird is typically highest
in people who already have chronic diseases, such as the very
young, the elderly, HIV-infected individuals, organ-transplant
recipients, and people receiving chemotherapy. People at risk
should speak with both their physician and their veterinarian
about the relative risks of disease transmitted from pet birds.
The following conditions are some of the more common infections
carried by birds:
- Chlamydiosis - Also known as Psittacosis, can be transmitted
to humans. In people, the disease causes flu-like symptoms of
fever, chills and headache. If left untreated, Psittacosis can
cause liver and kidney damage or even meningitis.
Note: This Chlamydia is not the same infectious agent that
spreads among humans as a sexually transmitted
Chlamydia infection transmits through feces and
infectious particles in the air. Treatment for the infection
includes an antibiotic, doxycycline, which doctors and
veterinarians use in humans and birds. If you find yourself or
other family members coming down with "the flu" and your bird
isn't feeling well, it could be Chlamydia; contact your family
doctor and your veterinarian.
In your bird:
Psittacosis causes varying severity of illness
in birds. Some birds are simply carriers; this is typical in
the cockatiel. Other birds may lose their appetite and become
emaciated, depressed and may develop difficulty in breathing
or diarrhea. Without treatment, most birds die from this
disease. Diagnosis requires a panel of tests because no
single test can accurately determine whether your bird is
infected. You should obtain these tests as part of a
pre-purchase examination, especially if there are clinical
signs of Psittacosis.
Avian Tuberculosis - Not often seen in birds, but
transmission to people can lead to respiratory infections,
swelling of lymph nodes below the jaw and even widespread
disease in people with weakened immune systems. The disease can
spread through the air or through the feces from infected
In your bird:
Affected birds usually have vague symptoms, such as loss of
weight despite a good appetite, dull feather coloring,
increase in urine output, diarrhea and anemia. Diagnostic
tests aren't too reliable, but a veterinarian experienced
with avian diseases will usually examine the feces for
bacteria. Euthanasia of a
bird infected with Mycobacteria is necessary due to the
potential danger to humans.
Histoplasmosis - A respiratory infection in people who
inhale fungal spores from contaminated soil or dust. The
Histoplasma fungus grows on bird feces, so it's a concern in
buildings where large amounts of pigeon droppings collect in
roosting sites. While this isn't a big issue in pet birds, it
is prudent not to allow fecal matter to accumulate to the point
that mold can grow on it.
Cryptococcus - Another fungal infection. Though uncommon in
pet birds, infection can cause diarrhea, paralysis,
nervous-system signs and masses with a gelatinous consistency.
Humans can contract this disease when they inhale the dust from
dried droppings (most commonly from pigeons). Infection in
people can be quite serious leading to meningitis, encephalitis
(brain inflammation) or respiratory symptoms.
Allergic Alveolitus - While not truly a zoonotic disease in
the sense that it does not affect birds, bird owners can
contract Allergic Alveolitus by inhaling particles of bird
dander in the air. Allergic Alveolitus also goes by the names
of Pigeon Lung Disease and Parakeet Dander Pneumoconiosis.
Campylobacteriosis - A bacterial infection that causes
gastrointestinal problems. It usually transmits through fecal
contamination of food and water. While diarrhea, weight loss,
and lethargy are common, Campylobacteriosis can also be present
in birds that show no symptoms of illness.
Although this list is not inclusive, it does list the more common
diseases that can pass to humans keeping pet birds. Good hygiene
practices are the best method of prevention!