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HEALTH HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH BIRD AND BAT DROPPINGS
Health risks from birds and bats are often exaggerated. Nevertheless,
large populations of roosting birds may present the risk of disease
to people nearby. The most serious health risks arise from disease
organisms that can grow in the nutrient-rich accumulations of bird
droppings, feathers and debris under a roost - particularly if roosts
have been active for years. External parasites also may become a
problem when infested birds or bats leave roosts or nests. The parasites
then can invade buildings and bite or irritate people.
"After a small group of students raked and swept a 20-year accumulation of dirt, leaves, and debris in a middle school’s courtyard on Earth Day–1970, nearly 400 people (mostly students) developed histoplasmosis. (92) The school’s forced-air ventilation system, which had fresh air intakes in the courtyard, was implicated as being primarily responsible for spreading contaminated air throughout the school. Results of the outbreak investigation showed that a few students developed histoplasmosis despite being absent from school on the day when the courtyard was cleaned. This finding suggests that exposures to spore-contaminated dust continued for a day or more after cleaning of the courtyard was stopped."(NIOSH - National Institute of Safety and Health)
Histoplasmosis is caused by a fungus (Histoplasma capsulatum).
The disease is transmitted to humans by airborne fungus
spores from soil contaminated by pigeon and starling droppings (as
well as from the droppings of other birds and bats). The soil under
a roost usually has to have been enriched by droppings for two years
or more for the disease organism to reach significant levels. Although
almost always associated with soil, the fungus has been found in
droppings (particularly from bats) alone, such as in an attic.
Infection occurs when spores, carried by the air are inhaled -
especially after a roost has been disturbed. Most infections are
mild and produce either no symptoms or a minor influenza- like illness.
On occasion, the disease can cause high fever, blood abnormalities,
pneumonia and even death. In some areas, including portions of Illinois,
up to 80 percent of the population show evidence of previous infection.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reported a potentially
blinding eye condition - presumed ocular histoplasmosis syndrome
(OHS) - that probably results from the fungus. NIH estimates that
4 percent of those exposed to the disease are at risk of developing
Pigeon droppings appear to be the most important source of the
disease fungus Cryptococcus neoformans in the environment.
The fungus is typically found in accumulations of droppings around
roosting and nesting sites, for example, attics, cupolas, ledges
and water towers. It has been found in as many as 84 percent of
samples taken from old roosts. Even when old and dry, bird droppings
can be a significant source of infection.
Like histoplasmosis, most cryptococcosis infections are mild and
may be without symptoms. Persons with weakened immune systems, however,
are more susceptible to infection. The disease is acquired by inhaling
the yeast-like cells of the organism. Two forms of cryptococcosis
occur in humans. The generalized form begins with a lung infection
and spreads to other areas of the body, particularly the central
nervous system, and is usually fatal unless treated. The cutaneous
(skin) form is characterized by acne-like skin eruptions or ulcers
with nodules just under the skin. The cutaneous form is very rare,
however, without generalized (systemic) disease. Outbreaks (multiple
cases at a location) of cryptococcosis have not been documented.
Other diseases carried or transmitted by birds affect man to a
lesser degree. Psittacosis and toxoplasmosis are normally mild in
man; however, serious illness or death does occur rarely. Pigeons
and sparrows also have been implicated (along with many other species
of birds) as sources of encephalitis viruses carried by mosquitoes.
Bats and disease
Bats are associated with a few diseases that affect people, such
as rabies and histoplasmosis. Rabies is a dangerous, fatal disease,
but only about 5 percent of bats submitted for testing are infected
with the rabies virus. In recent years, there has been increased
concern about the risk of rabies transmission following contact
with bats. If an injured or ill bat is found in or around a structure,
it should be removed. Because most bats will try to bite when handled.
Contact Abolish Pest Control. If a bat has bitten or scratched someone,
capture the bat without touching it with your hands and without
crushing its head. If the bat is dead, refrigerate it (DO NOT freeze)
and then contact your local health department immediately
The incidence of histoplasmosis being transmitted from bat droppings
to humans is not thought to be high. Nevertheless, fresh bat droppings
(unlike fresh bird dropping) can contain the histoplasmosis fungus.
Bat droppings do not need to come into contact with soil to be a
source of the disease.
Ticks, mites and other parasites
Bird or bat roosts can harbor parasites that may invade buildings.
Although these parasites can bite and irritate, they are unlikely
to transmit diseases to humans. The northern fowl mite and chicken
mite are usually the main culprits. Other parasites that may cause
problems inside buildings include the pigeon nest bug and the bat
bug (both related to the beg bug), soft ticks, biting lice and the
pigeon fly. Although most parasites associated with bird or bat
roosts die quickly after the birds or bats leave, some may live
for several weeks.
Droppings, feathers, food and dead birds under a roosting area
can breed flies, carpet beetles and other insects that may become
major problems in the immediate area. These pests may fly through
open windows or crawl through cracks to enter buildings. If birds
or bats are discouraged from roosting around buildings, most of
the parasites associated with them will soon die. If the pests are
a problem, the roost area should be treated with a residual insecticide
appropriately labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
for control of fleas, ticks, mites and similar pests.
Removal and cleanup of bird and bat droppings
If there is a small accumulation of droppings from a few birds
or bats, it can be cleaned up with soap and water. If large quantities
of bird or bat droppings are present, contact Abolish Pest Control
Our employees follow certain precautions to minimize risk from
disease organisms in the droppings:
- Cleanup should be done by Abolish Pest Control.
- We wear a respirator that can filter particles as small as 0.3
- We wear disposable protective gloves, hat, coveralls and boots.
- During the cleanup, seal heating and cooling air ducts or shut
the system down.
- Moisten the droppings with a Disinfectant to keep spores from
becoming airborne and keep them wet.
- Put droppings into sealed plastic garbage bags 3 mil thick.
- When finished and while still wearing the respirator, remove
protective clothing and place it in a plastic bag.
- Modify the structure to prevent birds or bats from reestablishing
the roost. Read more on Removal