Pigeons live in many various cities, and you probably spotted them in your area as well. While feeding pigeons in parks is another contribution to a pleasant evening, it is crucial to be aware of risks associated with this activity. So, do pigeons carry diseases or pose a serious threat to your health?
There are three human diseases linked to pigeon droppings – histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, and psittacosis. In this article, you will find information about these diseases, the possibility to get them from contact with pigeon droppings (for example, when cleaning), the precautions you should take, and when to call pigeon control services. Read on and stay safe!
Also known as “cave disease” or “rock fever,” histoplasmosis is caused by a fungus called Histoplasma capsulatum. This fungus is most commonly found in the soil environment, but pigeons can also serve as its reservoirs. Considering that, they can easily contaminate their surroundings with spores and spread them to other areas.
Once inhaled, the spores lodge into the lungs and form small abscesses. These abscesses can become active later on and cause various symptoms. These include chest pain, fever, fatigue, night sweats, and weight loss.
The treatment is usually relatively simple – antifungal medications. However, if the disease goes untreated, it may cause permanent lung damage and even death.
Inhaling the spores of Histoplasma capsulatum can cause three types of infections:
- Acute infection – causes mild flu-like symptoms, including fever, sore throat, and headaches. This form of infection is treated with antifungal agents, and most people recover without any other complications. However, some people might experience fatigue and body aches for weeks after getting well.
- Chronic infection – is a mild or severe form of histoplasmosis that mainly affects immune-compromised people. The symptoms include fatigue, muscle aches, weight loss, and night sweats.
- Disseminated infection – is the most severe form of histoplasmosis. It occurs when the fungus spreads from the lungs to other organs (skin, eyes, lymph nodes, spleen, liver, heart, and bones).
Cryptococcosis is an infection caused by a yeast-like fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. The fungus lives in pigeon droppings, feathers, and nests, and it spreads through inhalation of spores or contaminated food. In addition to pigeons, other animals such as rats, dogs, cats, and humans are also susceptible to cryptococcosis.
The main symptoms of cryptococcosis include cough, dizziness, weakness, fever, headache, and confusion. There might be additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation in some cases. As the disease progresses, it may cause swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, chest, armpit area, or groin area.
In most cases, treatment consists of antifungal medications. However, if the infection goes undetected or is not treated promptly enough, it may result in serious problems such as meningitis or pneumonia.
Also known as parrot fever or parrot disease, psittacosis is an infectious disease that affects people who come into contact with birds belonging to the Psittacine family (e.g., parakeets, macaws, and cockatiels). However, one of the risks associated with pigeons is that they may develop the illness and shed the bacteria that causes psittacosis. Thus pigeons may also be sources of spreading the disease.
In addition to respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath, psittacosis may also cause fever and joint pain. In some severe cases, it can cause encephalitis (swelling of the brain) or death.
Precautions You Should Take
To protect yourself from pigeons and their droppings, follow these simple precautions:
- Wear a mask to avoid inhaling the spores of Histoplasma capsulatum and Cryptococcus neoformans;
- Wear gloves to avoid contact with pigeon droppings and wash your hands immediately after cleaning the area around the nest. It is recommended to wear a mask as well;
- Avoid cleaning pigeon droppings if you have an immune deficiency or if you have a weakened immune system;
- Don’t let children play around the nests, especially if they have an impaired immune system. It is also essential to keep pets away from the nests;
- Keep your home clean and free of dust. Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter vacuum cleaner to reduce dust in the house. Also, wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning your home to remove any dust or particles that might contain Histoplasma spores.
How to Clean Pigeon Droppings
You can use the following methods to take care of pigeon droppings:
- Plastic bags – put all droppings in a plastic bag and discard it outside. You will need to clean the area with a disinfectant or bleach solution afterward;
- Hose – use a hose to spray down the area and remove the droppings. This method won’t eliminate the smell, though;
- Shower – if you can, take a shower after cleaning up pigeon droppings. That removes most of the particles from your body, but it won’t eliminate any Histoplasma spores that might have settled during cleaning. Therefore, it is necessary to clean the areas thoroughly with soap and water afterward.
Although pigeons aren’t considered pests to most people, they often carry various diseases and harmful bacteria. Even mere contact with pigeon droppings can lead to severe health issues, such as histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, or psittacosis.
And while these diseases may not come with problematic symptoms at first, if not treated, they will lead to severe diseases. In extreme cases, they may even be the cause of death. That is why you should always pay attention to any pigeons invading your terrace. And while we’ve mentioned several ways of getting rid of pigeons yourself, it’s always best to contact professional pest control services to deal with the issue.