The link between bird droppings and disease

Bird droppings caused by nesting pigeons

Much is made of the potential to become infected by a disease when encountering bird droppings, and, although possible, the risk is often exaggerated.

This information is suitable for people who, on a “one-off” basis, intend to clean up a modest amount of droppings on the outside of a building. People who come into contact with pigeon or bird droppings regularly as part of their work or hobby may need to conduct a full risk assessment and seek professional advice.

If you need to get rid of unwanted pigeons or other birds leaving guano and debris on your property, you may have contacted a specialist contractor. Some companies will tell you that there is a high risk of infection and disease from the associated droppings that these pest birds have left behind. The reality is very different; most experts agree that with a few simple precautions, most risks can be prevented. Many clean-ups can be carried out safely and without needing a specialist contractor.

Safely Cleaning Bird Droppings

Any risk of contracting a disease comes from the breathing in of particles that have usually become airborne because of the scraping or brushing of the dry droppings during the cleaning process, and not by accidentally touching wet droppings.

To reduce the risk of dust inhalation, dampen down the droppings before you commence work and at regular intervals during the cleaning. This will prevent the dried particles from becoming airborne. If there is a substantial build-up of droppings or you are worried that some dust may still become airborne, then an ordinary dust mask from the hardware store may be worn. Depending on the size and severity of the job, a bucket of water or even a hosepipe may be necessary to soak the droppings completely.

We have an in-depth guide on "How to Safely Remove Bird Droppings" which covers all of the safety PPE and protective measures you should consider before undertaking the work.

Pigeon nesting debris and droppings can cause health issues

Common symptoms

One of the most common diseases associated with bird droppings is Histoplasmosis, which can be contracted by breathing in fungus that grows in the bird droppings. When the dry droppings are disturbed, the fungal particles can become airborne and inhaled.

The greater the quantity inhaled, the greater the risk of infection. Most cases of contracted diseases are associated with people who may have an existing weak immune system, which means they have a higher-than-normal risk of contracting an illness.

The majority of people who are exposed for short periods show no symptoms and require no treatment. If symptoms are going to occur it is usually within the first 10 days. Indicators can include flu-like symptoms, fever, dry cough, chest pain, headache, joint and muscle pains and shortness of breath. However, it is important to note that mild cases sometimes have no symptoms at all. Contact your doctor if you start to develop any symptoms after being exposed or have any concerns.

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