A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be passed from animals to humans. These diseases can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. Humans can contract zoonotic or vector-borne diseases through contact with an animal, its bodily fluids, its infected waste or its living environment; by contact with water or soil contaminated by infected animal waste; by eating meat from infected animals or eating food such as fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated by infected animal waste; or through vectors—such from infected animals to humans via mosquitoes, fleas or ticks. Following are some zoonoses related to birds and poultry:
H5N1 (Avian influenza)
Avian influenza (bird flu) refers to disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. Bird flu viruses can infect the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract of birds and have been identified from more than 100 different species of wild birds around the world. Wild aquatic birds including gulls, terns, and shorebirds, and wild waterfowl such as ducks, geese and swans are considered reservoirs (natural hosts) for bird flu viruses. Most wild birds infected with bird flu viruses are asymptomatic (i.e., do not exhibit signs or symptoms of illness). Some bird flu viruses can infect domestic poultry and other domestic and backyard birds, and outbreaks of bird flu in domestic poultry occur worldwide.
To reduce infection risks to your poultry, you should:
- Keep visitors to a minimum. Only allow those people who take care of your poultry to come in contact with your birds, this includes family and friends. Keep track of everyone who is on your property at all times. Make sure everyone who has contact with your flock follows biosecurity principles.
- Wash your hands before and after coming in contact with live poultry. In addition to potentially spreading disease from farm to farm or bird to bird, you can also spread germs such as Salmonella that can impact human health. Wash with soap and water (always your first choice). If using a hand sanitizer, first remove manure, feathers, and other materials from your hands because disinfectants will not penetrate organic matter or caked-on dirt.
- Provide disposable boot covers (preferred) and/or disinfectant footbaths for anyone having contact with your flock. If using a footbath, be sure to remove all droppings, mud or debris from boots and shoes using a long-handled scrub brush BEFORE stepping into the disinfectant footbath, and always keep it clean.
- Change clothes before entering poultry areas and before exiting the property.
Visitors should wear protective outer garments or disposable coveralls, boots, and headgear when handling birds, and shower and/or change clothes when leaving the facility.
- Clean and disinfect tools or equipment before moving them to a new poultry facility. Before allowing service vehicles, trucks, tractors, or tools and equipment—including egg flats and cases that have come in contact with birds or their droppings—to exit the property, make sure they are cleaned and disinfected to prevent contaminated equipment from transporting disease. Do not move or reuse items that cannot be cleaned and disinfected—such as cardboard egg flats.
- Look for signs of illness. Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases.
- Report sick birds. Don’t wait. If your birds are sick or dying, call a local veterinarian, cooperative extensive service, or state veterinarian. Call USDA toll-free at 1-866-536-7593.
Psittacosis is a bacterial disease associated with pet birds, including parrots, parakeets, macaws and cockatiels, and with poultry, including turkeys and ducks. Infection is acquired by inhaling dried secretions from infected birds. Symptoms of human infection include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a dry cough. Pneumonia is often evident upon chest X-ray. Since 1996, fewer than 50 confirmed cases were reported in the United States each year. Complications and fatalities may occasionally occur. Infected birds are often asymptomatic.
Salmonellosis is a bacterial disease. Typical symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain that starts 1 to 3 days after infection. These symptoms usually go away after 1 week. In some cases, medical attention is required because the diarrhea is severe or the infection has affected other organs. Usually, people get salmonellosis by eating contaminated food, such as chicken or eggs. However, many different species of animals—including poultry, reptiles, amphibians, and farm animals—can carry Salmonella and pass it in their feces. Baby chicks and ducklings are especially likely to pass Salmonella to people. Parents and day-care workers should be aware that children under 5 years old should not handle baby chicks and ducklings, as salmonellosis can be very severe in young children.
To reduce infection risks, you should:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching, feeding or caring for your bird, poultry, reptiles and other pets, and especially after cleaning up their waste and habitats.
- Children under 5 years of age should handle or pet any animal—including poultry, reptiles, amphibians and hedgehogs—only with parental supervision and everyone should wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Keep birds, poultry, reptiles and amphibians in a species-appropriate habitat. To reduce the risk of illness, do not let these type of animals roam around your home.
- Wash your hands after contact with farm animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs and goats as these animals can also transmit Salmonella.
- Clean your pet or animal's food and water dishes in a separate sink or tub, not in the kitchen sink or bathtub.
- Cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Clean food preparation surfaces regularly. After preparing raw foods such as fish, meat or poultry, wash your hands, utensils and cutting boards before you start handling other foods.
- Avoiding bathing infants in the kitchen sink.
- Regular veterinary care is important for the health of every animal. Your veterinarian can recommend a health care protocol to keep your bird or poultry safe from infectious diseases.
- The best way to protect yourself from these zoonotic diseases is to practice good hygiene after handling an animal or its waste. Wash your hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water. If you have any questions about these diseases or concerns about your pet's health, please consult your veterinarian. If you have concerns about your health, please seek medical attention from your health care provider.
Updated: May 26, 2023