Pigeons and other Pest Birds often make nests in buildings and rapidly reproduce. Breeding occurs throughout the year, usually taking place between March and July. Contact with pigeon droppings may pose a health risk. Three human diseases are known to be associated with pigeon droppings: histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, and psittacosis.
Histoplasmosis is a disease caused by a fungus, which grows in pigeon droppings. It also grows in soils and is found throughout the world. When cleaning droppings a person may breathe in some of the fungus, which in cases of high exposure can cause infection. Common activities, such as cleaning off windowsills, will not result in high exposures.
Symptoms of histoplasmosis begin to appear about 10 days after initial infection and include fatigue, fever, and chest pains. Most people, however, do not show any symptoms. Those with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients or people living with HIV/AIDS are generally more at risk of developing histoplasmosis.
Cryptococcosis is another fungal disease associated with pigeon droppings and also grows in soils throughout the world. It is very unlikely that healthy people will become infected even at high levels of exposure. A major risk factor for infection is a compromised immune system. Researchers at Albert Einstein Collage of medicine in the Bronx found that 70% of urban children have been exposed to Cryptococcosis.
Psittacosis (also known as ornithosis or parrot fever) is a rare infectious disease that mainly affects parrots and parrot-like birds such as cockatiels, and parakeets, but may also affect other birds, such as pigeons. When bird droppings dry and become airborne people may inhale them and get sick.
In humans, this bacterial disease is characterized by: fatigue, fever, headache, rash, chills, and sometimes pneumonia. Symptoms develop about 10 days after exposure. Psittacosis can be treated with a common antibiotic.
Cleaning Up Pest Bird Droppings
Protecting the health of both workers who clean up pigeon droppings and the general public is important.
Before any extensive clean-up measures are taken – e.g., removing accumulations inside an air shaft – workers should be informed of the possible health risks involved, particularly those with weakened immune systems. Even though histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, and psittacosis pose minor public health threats, they can be further minimized if safety measures are taken. Wearing protective clothing like disposable coveralls, boots, gloves, and respirators can be used for protection.
If a high-powered water hose is used to strip off dried droppings, dust control measures such as containing the area with plastic sheeting, should be taken. Wetting down the work area will prevent inhalation, reduce the risk of infection and will also prevent the spread of dust outside the work area. Those with a compromised immune system such as people living with HIV/AIDS or cancer patients should not be directly involved in the removal of the droppings. Always wash hands and any exposed skin before eating or drinking and when finished with work.
Several alternatives to using a high-powered water hose exist. One such alternative includes soaking the droppings with water and then shoveling it. The wet material should be collected in heavy-duty plastic bags or another type of secure container and discarded with the regular trash.
Once the structures are cleaned they should have bird control products installed to prevent further accumulation of droppings.
The key to reducing the risk of disease from birds is to create an environment that excludes them from affected areas:
1) Eliminate Food Sources
a. Clean up trash bins and garbage areas
b. Discourage people from feeding birds
c. Pick up trash and food scraps in outdoor eating areas
2) Eliminate Nesting / Roosting Areas
a. Use bird spikes, bird netting, shock track systems, or other physical deterrents to prevent nesting
3) Call For Help!
a. There are several Bird Control companies in the United States – they can provide expert advice on your particular pest bird problem.