Why You Need To Know About Zoonotic Avian Infections

Neil Forbes, BVetMed DECZM FRCVS with eagle
Read in 14 minutes

Emergence of a new, highly pathogenic AI virus with the capacity to infect humans may lead to development of a new subtype that can spread from person-to-person and causes serious disease.


All clinicians should train staff to recognize clinical signs and actions to take when the public phone with questions.

Factors to consider are national biosecurity, personal, staff and public health, and prevention of contamination of your facilities. In the United Kingdom, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will only investigate if more than 10 birds are found dead during office hours, at other times and in other situations, avian veterinarians are on the front line.


Infrequent and rare,
but potentially serious zoonoses


Cryptococcus neoformans is a saprophytic fungus commonly found in soil contaminated by bird feces, especially pigeon droppings.

Disease is rare in birds, but often involves necrotic, granulomatous lesions of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, or nervous system as well as a characteristic pale, gelatinous exudate.

Human infection generally occurs through contact with exudates or other infective material and can affect healthy as well as immunocompromised individuals.

Always consider cryptococcosis when treating atypical upper respiratory infections in birds.


Mycobacterium avium is worthy of note, only in so far as human tuberculosis is commonly contracted by immunocompromised individuals from contaminated soil.

Infection from infected birds is extremely rare.

Other rare zoonotic pathogens include Erysipelas, Listeria, rabies virus, Toxoplasma, and Giardia.


In humans, clinical signs of cryptosporidiosis comprise persistent diarrhea, malabsorption, abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting.

Although the coccidian parasite, Cryptosporidium, is commonly found in numerous bird species, as of yet no avian strains have been incriminated of causing human disease.

However birds can become infected by mammalian strains, so it seems only a matter of time before mammals are infected by avian strains.


Specific control measures recommended for zoonotic infections


To prevent transmission of Chlamydophila psittaci and other infectious agents to humans, specific control measures are recommended:


Instruct at risk personnel to wear protective gear and an appropriately fitted respirator with N95 or higher rating when handling birds infected with C. psittaci or when cleaning their cages.

Surgical masks may not prevent transmission of Chlamydophila. Before performing necropsies, wet carcasses with detergent and water to prevent aerosolization of infectious particles.

Encourage pet stores to maintain detailed records of all bird-related transactions for at least 1 year.

This will aid in identifying sources of infected birds and potentially exposed persons.

Isolate newly acquired, ill, or exposed birds.

Also quarantine birds that have left and returned to the site, including those who have been to the vet’s office, shows, fairs, and other events.

House quarantined birds in a separate air space for at least 30 days.

Test or prophylactically treat birds for psittacosis before adding them to the group.

Test all birds of unknown health status (not previously tested or exposed since last test) for psittacosis.

This is particularly important prior to hospitalization to minimize the risk of infecting other patients.

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