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Preventing Transmission of Infectious Diseases In Birds

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

prevent infectious diseases in birds care sheet

Types of infectious diseases in birds

Birds can carry infectious organisms that can potentially cause zoonotic (transmittable to humans and other animals) diseases. Among these organisms are:

  • Chlamydia psittaci (causing psittacosis or chlamydiosis, also known as parrot fever or ornithosis)
  • Salmonella bacteria (causing salmonellosis)

 

Overview of infectious diseases

Salmonella is a bacterium commonly acquired through oral contact with an infected animal's fecal matter. Infected birds may not display any signs of illness and may simply carry this bacterium in their gastrointestinal tracts. They are, however, able to shed the organism into their stool and infect other animals and people. Human infection can take place by not washing hands after having contact with the bird, the bird's habitat or habitat items. Salmonella is of greatest concern for children, due to their immature immune systems, or for people with underlying conditions that suppress their immune system function.

 

Precautions to take when handling birds

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or use a sanitizer or antibacterial gel after handling pet birds or cleaning up their droppings, habitats or other areas where they have been
  • Always carry hand sanitizer or disinfectants with you if you are handling any bird outside your home or in an area that lacks proper washing facilities
  • If transporting a bird to a classroom with children, make sure there are proper handwashing and cleaning facilities; do not take a bird to any classroom or daycare facility where there are children under the age of 5
  • Keep the bird’s habitat, water and food bowls, décor and other surfaces as clean as possible and free of feces
  • Clean the habitat in a well-ventilated area or outside; never clean habitats in or around food preparation areas
    • Wear rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves when cleaning the habitat, and wash hands thoroughly when you are done
    • Never use a vacuum to clean a bird’s habitat, as it stirs up dry fecal material and dander into the air; always keep habitat dust and dander to a minimum by cleaning frequently
    • Once the habitat is cleaned of organic material, disinfect it with a pet-safe habitat cleaner or dilute bleach solution (a half-cup of bleach to one gallon of warm water); follow the habitat cleaner manufacturer’s instructions or let the bleach solution remain on the habitat and all food bowls, water dishes, hide huts, etc., for 10 minutes, and then thoroughly rinse everything with warm water
    • Allow everything to completely dry before returning your bird and their supplies to the habitat
  • Closely supervise young children when they are cleaning habitats, and ensure they wash their hands immediately after handling a pet bird, habitat or accessories; children under 5 years of age should not help clean habitats or their contents, as they often put their hands into their mouths
  • Do not handle your bird or habitat furnishings with open sores or cuts on your hands because of increased risk of infection; wear rubber gloves to handle birds and to clean habitats and habitat contents
  • Never let your mouth contact a bird; for example, some people like to give their bird an occasional affectionate kiss, but kissing a bird is not recommended, as this gesture can transmit infection to the person kissing the animal
  • If you cannot go outside to clean your bird's habitat and accessories, use your bathtub, but thoroughly disinfect the tub with a dilute bleach solution afterward
  • Pet birds should not be allowed to roam freely throughout the home or living area where they can pass potentially infectious droppings

 

FAQs

  • What diseases do birds carry? Birds can potentially carry infectious diseases that are transmittable to people such as salmonellosis (infection with salmonella bacteria) and psittacosis (infection with Chlamydia psittaci bacteria).
  • Can birds transmit diseases to humans? Yes, birds can carry a few infectious organisms, such as salmonella bacteria and Chlamydia psittaci bacteria, that are potentially transmittable to people.
  • Can bird feathers carry disease? While bird feathers potentially can carry parasites, bacteria and viruses, most of the time, these organisms are carried on the feathers of dead birds. The risk of getting a disease from handling a bird’s feathers is low. However, you should always wash your hands after handling a bird, its feathers or any of its habitat contents.

 

Additional care sheets

  • Parakeet
  • Conure
  • Cockatiel

 

Notes and resources

Because all birds are potential carriers of infectious diseases, always wash your hands before and after handling your bird and/or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease. Work with your avian veterinarian on protocols to treat your bird should the bird become ill and need treatment.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing and/or caring for a bird and should consider having a pet other than a bird.

 

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.