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Originally published in Interiors & Sources

03/26/2008

Avian Fecal Matter Poses Threat to Buildings and Occupants

Although the risk of contracting an infection from bird droppings is relatively low, these diseases are severe and may be life threatening if contracted

 
By R. Brett Madden

Birds can be a serious public health hazard to buildings and their occupants through the spread of more than 60 transmissible (even potentially fatal) diseases if fecal matter and nesting materials on and/or in HVAC and other rooftop equipment are not properly remedied. Diseases such as Histoplasmosis, Asperuillosis, Cryptococcis, Encephalitis, Salmonella, and Lasteriosas can spread through bird excrement and nesting materials. Because birds can travel over great distances, this provides a means of transfer of several different types of parasites from one location to another. In addition, bird excrement provides an ideal environment for the growth of organisms and other dangerous spores. Although the risk of contracting an infection from bird droppings is relatively low, these diseases are severe and may be life threatening if contracted.

Diseases can be contracted through a number of ways:

1. INHALATION: Inhaling pathogenic spores can enter through either the nose or mouth. Bird excrement is most dangerous when in a dry state; it becomes airborne in a fine fecal dust form, especially when the dry excrement is disturbed. Contaminated fecal dust can typically enter a facility through air-handling and related equipment. As such, it is of critical importance to keep rooftops and air-handling equipment free from birds. Moreover, all vents and equipment openings should be properly sealed. Equipment should also be regularly inspected to ensure that the covers and/or rooftop equipment has not been compromised.

2. DIRECT CONTACT: Diseases can be spread when bird excrement dust and/or bird excrement comes into direct contact with an open wound or cut. For this reason, whenever bird droppings are being removed, it's critical to wear all of the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at all times.

3. ASSOCIATED PARASITES: Accumulated bird excrement or nesting materials can harbor parasites, such as mites, fleas, bed bugs, ticks, and other types of parasites, all of which can bite humans. These parasites can transfer diseases when the parasite bites an infected animal and extracts blood that contains the germ. When the infected parasite bites its next victim, it can pass along the germ to the new host. As such, after bird droppings and all of the nesting materials have been removed, an Ectoparasite inspection should be performed to see if further treatment is necessary to remedy any harboring parasites.

4. FOOD AND WATER CONTAMINATION: When a diseased pest bird directly defecates into a human food or water source, diseases can be transmitted. In addition to direct contamination, airborne spores may travel through air ducts and ventilation systems, which can settle on exposed food.

In addition to the disease transmission factors discussed above, there are other factors that should be taken into consideration when reviewing the dangers and problems that pest birds present. Accumulated bird excrement can allow significant water penetration into buildings and can cause subsequent roof decay. In addition, bird excrement, feathers, and other related debris may damage and/or clog rainwater drainage systems over time. This can cause water to accumulate on rooftops and other areas, which can lead to water penetration and severe roof decay.

Bird excrement also represents an aesthetic problem. Because of the corrosive nature of bird droppings, the excrement can quickly deface building finishes, park benches, statues, cars, ledges, and entryways. This defacement is not only objectionable to the public, but it also accelerates deterioration. If bird excrement is allowed to build up, it makes for a slippery and unsafe footing on walkways and other building entryways. Moreover, a bird infestation not only places the general public at risk, but also employees and building occupants.

R. Brett Madden, No Fly Zone Inc.
(brett@noflyzoneinc.com)

 

 
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