Avian Zoonoses

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:

  1. Wash any injured site with soap and water for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Control bleeding by applying direct pressure with a sterile gauze or bandage.
  3. Cover the wound with a clean bandage (do not apply an ointment or spray).
  4. Seek advice from the Research Occupational Health Program.

Infectious Diseases

Psittacosis (Ornithosis, Chlamydiosis)


Avian Tuberculosis

**If you suspect that you have contacted an infection from birds, contact the Research Occupational Health Program at 617-414-ROHP.

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