Yes, your pet bird can potentially get you or your child sick. Infectious diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals are called zoonotic. Unfortunately, birds can carry at lease five different serious illnesses. Not all birds carry disease but the potential is there so you must be cautious, especially with very young children, very old people and immune system compromised people. Immune compromised people would include organ transplant recipients, people in chemotherapy and HIV infected people.
If you think that you or your child has been exposed to or is suffering from any bird disease, your smart move is to consult your physician who can help pinpoint the cause and prescribe proper treatment. This article is for your additional information only. I feel that it is always smart to do your homework before you consult your physician. The more help you can offer your physician on his diagnosis of a problem the better.
First, to help avoid exposure to potential disease, cleanliness counts. To best protect yourself from getting sick, thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap after contact with birds or their droppings.
Some people use rubber gloves and a mask when cleaning birdcages and habitats. Disinfect the sink after you wash bird toys, perches and food bowls. Do not share bites of food with your pet bird, if you might be swapping saliva. Common sense goes a long way in helping to avoid exposure.
The five diseases that can be carried by birds are Salmonella, Chlamydia psittaci , Avian Tuberculosis, HistoPlasmosis and Cryptoccus. I will explain each disease.
*Salmonella is a bacterial disease associated with many birds, especially chickens, baby chicks, and ducklings. Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of some birds, humans and other animals. Salmonella can be found in the feces of some pets, and people can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with these feces. There are approximately 40,000 human cases of salmonellosis per year in the United States (not all contracted from birds) and about 600 of those infected die. Salmonella causes vomiting and diarrhea and sometimes fever. Salmonella infections usually resolve in 5-7 days and often do not require treatment unless the patient becomes severely dehydrated or the infection spreads from the intestines. Persons with severe diarrhea may require rehydration, often with intravenous fluids. Antibiotics are not usually necessary unless the infection spreads from the intestines, then it can be treated with ampicillin, gentamicin, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, or ciprofloxacin.
*Chlamydia psittaci, often referred to as parrot fever or avian chlamydiosis (AC), is an important cause of systemic illness in birds kept as pets and in poultry. This disease has been isolated in 129 bird species, and parakeets, parrots, macaws, cockatiels, pigeons, doves, and mynah birds are the most likely carriers. Birds may carry this disease for years without showing signs of it. Birds that show the disease may have a respiratory infection, eye discharge, lethargy and diarrhea. Human infection with C. psittaci usually occurs through the inhalation of aerosolized contaminated bird urine, respiratory secretions, or dried feces of infected birds. Other sources of exposure can include bird bites, mouth-to-beak contact, and handling the plumage and tissues of infected birds. Treatment includes Tetracyclines are the drugs of choice for treating psittacosis in humans
*Avian Tuberculosis can affect all species of birds. The signs of Avian TB in birds are diarrhea, dull plumage, lethargy and gradual wasting away, even if the birds appetite is good. Avian TB can be transmitted to humans via ingestion or inhalation of contaminated feces. The contaminated feces can persist in the environment for many years. When cleaning a potentially sick bird, it is best to wear rubber gloves, goggles and a face mask. Always wash arms up to elbows with antiseptic soap even after wearing gloves. People are generally very resistant to these infections.
*HistoPlasmosis is a fungus that can be found in earth rich with bird droppings. Transmission to human can occur when they breathe in dust loaded with the fungus. This disease can cause a short term lung infection. This infection generally clears up by itself as long as the infected person has normal immune responses. Fungus killing medicines may be used if the infection is stubborn.
* Cryptococcus is found in the droppings of wild birds (such as pigeons). When dried bird droppings are stirred up, this can make dust containing Cryptococcus go into the air and be breathed by people. Pets, such as dogs and cats, can also get sick with cryptococcosis from this dust, but people do not get cryptococcosis from dogs and cats. Most people do not get sick with cryptococcosis, but some people, especially those immune compromised with HIV infection are at danger. For these people, cryptococcosis can cause serious symptoms of brain and spinal cord disease, such as headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, and confusion.