Birds and Our Health

Birds will often conjure up feelings like freedom and integrity but in reality they are rarely safe and pure.

Bird images are often found on various Coat of Arms and Flags and doves are set free at auspicious occasions, symbolizing freedom and hope, however direct contact with bird droppings renders us humans vulnerable. Simply inhaling in the area where birds inhabit, can put humans at great risk of contracting airborne diseases that directly attack our respiratory system.

Some diseases carried by pigeons and gulls could make you seriously ill. It is important to act at the first sign of a bird infestation to avoid these associated health hazards.

Salmonella – bacterium is deposited where pigeons or gulls defecate. It can lead to Salmonellosis and Paratyphoid fever.

Psittacosis – also called Ornithosis or pigeon fancier’s lung. This infection can be transmitted by inhaling the bacteria from dried droppings or handling feathers of infected pigeons or gulls.

Fowl pest – known also as fowl plague. This virus can be transmitted to people when they’re exposed to faecal and other excretions from infected pigeon birds.

Escherichia coli (E.Coli) – mainly spread by gulls, it can lead to illnesses such as gastro-enteritis and septicemia.

Fungal infections – include Histoplasmosis and Cryptococcosis, and are carried within bird droppings from gulls.

Bird mites – often found in nests and roosting places. They feed mainly on bird blood, but will also bite humans.

Common Bird Diseases

It is believed that birds can carry over 60 different diseases which have the potential to infect both humans and livestock. The main transmissible bird diseases can be categorised as bacterial, fungal and viral.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on


Often referred to as Parrot Fever.
Zoonotic disease caused by the Chlamydophila psittaci bacterium.
Infection occurs from inhaling airborne particles found in respiratory secretions, faces, and feathers of infected birds.
Symptoms start to show 5-19 days after infection. The first week of infections shows symptoms similar to typhoid fever such as abdominal pain, headaches, and diarrhoea to name a few.

Caused by Salmonella sp. Bacterium. Infection occurs from consuming food and drink contaminated with infected bird faeces.
Symptoms occur 12 to 72 hours after infection and include (but not limited to) diarrhoea, fever, vomiting, and nausea.
Recovery usually occurs without medical treatment.

Photo by cottonbro on


Also referred to as cryptococcal disease.
Caused by the systemic pathogenic yeasts Cryptococcus neoformans and Cryptococcus gattii.
Carried in the intestines of birds.
Found worldwide in soil. When it becomes disturbed the fungus contaminates the air and transmission occur through inhaling.
Affects lungs and central nervous system.

Caused by Histoplasma sp. Fungus.
Like with Cryptococcosis, transmission occurs through inhaling air contaminated with the fungus spores. Air becomes contaminated when infected soil is disturbed.
Generally, breathing in spores doesn’t result in any health risks. A mild fever may develop.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on


Avian Influenza
Commonly known as bird flu.
Caused by the influenza A strain of the influenza virus.
Rarely infects humans, but can spread from person to person.
Human infections have been a result of direct contact with infected birds and exposure to contaminated environments.
There have been rare cases of infection occurring through consuming food contaminated with raw contaminated poultry blood.

Newcastle Disease
Belongs to the genus Avulavirus of the avian paramyxoviruses.
Was first discovered in 1927 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, hence the name.
A big issue for poultry farms.
Can cause mild conjunctivitis and influenza-like symptoms in humans.

West Nile Virus
Generally regarded as a mosquito-borne disease.
Belongs to the same virus family as Dengue, and Zika.
Birds are a reservoir of the disease.
Mosquitoes become infected through biting infected birds and transmit the disease to people when they bite.

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