People who would never tolerate a colony of rats living around their trash cans will turn a blind eye towards bird droppings on the can’s lid. When homeowners think of pest management, they automatically think of controlling termites, spiders, ants, and rodents. Birds usually are not considered major pests, but they can and do cause serious problems for people. The general public’s affection toward birds translates into a serious underestimation of the health risks associated with birds.

Birds and their droppings can carry over 60 diseases that are fungal, bacterial, viral, and protozoal. Many of them are airborne and can be transferred to humans just by being around droppings. When dried bird feces is disturbed, microscopic pieces break off and become airborne. These airborne particles can contain dormant fungi and/or bacteria. When breathed into the lungs, the warm, moist environment of the lung lining provides a breeding ground for the infectious agents.

Histoplasmosis is a respiratory disease from a fungus growing in dried bird droppings. Common symptoms are flu-like in nature: coughing, elevated temperature, difficulty breathing, and general weakness, which last two to four days. For the vast majority, the body’s defenses will contain the fungus before symptoms appear but in a small percentage of cases, major infection causing long term disability and even death occurs. Some people are more likely than others to become ill. People who are more likely to get diseases from bird droppings include young children, organ transplant patients, people with HIV/AIDS, and people being treated for cancer. It is worth noting that there is no known medical cure for internal fungal infections. After the Northridge earthquake, several thousand people came down with a flu-like respiratory ailment, which was called Valley Fever. It was caused by people breathing in airborne debris filled with histoplasmosis spores, which was stirred up by the earthquake.

Salmonellosis often occurs as ‘food posioning’ and can be traced to pigeons, starlings and sparrows. The bacteria is found in bird droppings. Many homeowners place their contaminated trash cans on the side of their home right next to the air conditioning unit. Dust from droppings can be sucked through the air conditioner, contaminating food and cooking surfaces in homes.

The best way to prevent exposure to this health risk is to keep your trash cans clean and sanitized. Do not ignore the bird droppings on the lids of trash cans, as every time you open the lid to dispose of waste, you may also be exposing yourself to a health hazard.

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