Zoonotic Diseases & Birds

A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be passed from animals to humans. Following are some related to birds.

Influenza (including H5N1 and H1N1)

Avian (bird) flu is caused by influenza A avian viruses that occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide carry avian influenza viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, avian influenza is very contagious among birds and can be deadly for some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys. Infected birds shed influenza virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Domesticated birds may become infected with avian influenza virus through direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry, or through contact with surfaces (such as dirt or cages) or materials (such as water or feed) that have been contaminated with the virus. Contact with infected fecal material is the most common means of bird-to-bird transmission. Vaccines and treatments are in research and development. The best prevention is to keep pet birds indoors and don’t allow them to come into contact with other birds. Worldwide, there have been numerous human deaths attributed to close contact infected birds and poultry.


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.

David De Lossy/Digital Vision/Thinkstock


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, 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 hands after contact with pets, pet food and pet bowls. Wash with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds, then rinse and dry your hands with a paper towel.
  • Routinely clean pet food bowls and feeding areas.
  • Keep children younger than age 5 away from pet food and feeding areas.
  • Clean pets' food and water dishes in a separate sink or tub, not in the kitchen or bathtub.
  • Avoiding bathing infants in the kitchen sink.


It is important to remember that the best way to protect yourself from these zoonotic diseases is to practice good hygiene after handling your bird 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.

Take your bird to your veterinarian for regular check-ups, and if your bird exhibits any of the symptoms of these diseases.