Birds can carry organisms that may be potentially infectious to humans. Bird colonies in the laboratory setting are closely managed to produce high-quality, healthy animal models. The likelihood of a person contracting a disease from a bird is very low. However, there is always a risk of an outbreak occurring within a colony, either from new animals being introduced into an established colony or from individuals with asymptomatic disease-carrying pet birds inadvertently contaminating a colony via their shoes or clothing. A disease such as psittacosis is infectious both to other birds and to people; therefore an outbreak within a colony could significantly increase the risk of human exposure.
Recommended Preventative Measures
- Approved masks, gloves, and outer clothing, such as a lab coat or surgical gown, should be worn at all times when working with birds.
- Wash hands after handling animals.
- When seeking medical advice for any illness, inform your physician that you work with birds.
To reduce the risk of exposure to allergens when birds are transported to or used in laboratories, staff are advised to adhere to the following practices:
- Perform procedures in a laminar flow hood whenever possible.
- Minimize wearing protective clothing, such as lab coats, outside of animal areas.
- Keep transport carriers out of labs/offices/public areas.
- Use disposable supplies whenever possible.
- Sanitize lab benches after animal work.
- Follow posted personal protective equipment requirements.
Response to Injury
The species of birds maintained at BU are usually docile animals. If injury does occur:
- Wash any injured site with soap and water for at least 15 minutes.
- Control bleeding by applying direct pressure with a sterile gauze or bandage.
- Cover the wound with a clean bandage (do not apply an ointment or spray).
- Seek advice from the Research Occupational Health Program.
Psittacosis (Ornithosis, Chlamydiosis)
Psittacosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydia psittaci. Psittacosis is common in wild birds of all types and can occur in laboratory bird colonies as well.
- Reservoir/source of infection to people: Infected birds, especially ones displaying symptoms (diarrhea, respiratory signs, conjunctivitis, and nasal discharge) are highly contagious to other birds and to humans.
- Transmission: The disease is spread by direct contact or from aerosolization with exudative materials (e.g., pus), secretions, or feces.
- Disease in people: 7–14 days after exposure, an infected human may develop a respiratory illness of varying severity—from flu-like symptoms in mild cases to pneumonia in more significant infections. Serious cases can result in extensive pneumonia, hepatitis, myocarditis, thrombophlebitis, and encephalitis. It is responsive to antibiotic therapy. Relapses occur in untreated infections.
Avian tuberculosis, caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium avium, and Newcastle disease, caused by a paramyxovirus, both pose a potential hazard, although both diseases are more closely associated with chickens and wild birds.
- Transmission: Contact or inhalation of infective aerosols. As in other species, Salmonella and other enteric pathogens can cause disease in humans.
Various bird proteins have been identified as sources of antigens involved in both allergic reactions and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a lung condition with symptoms that mimic pneumonia. Symptoms develop after repeated exposure to a specific antigen found in birds.
Signs of an allergic reaction after exposure to birds are rhinitis and asthma symptoms. Signs and symptoms of both allergic reactions and hypersensitivity pneumonitis usually occur several hours after exposure.