03.18.2006 - This is a serious case of contamination due to pigeon infestation. Worse yet, it
occurred in a public building, in the primary air duct.
Even worse, it was in a public school. Worse still, the school refused to pay for cleanup, thereby exposing the entire school staff and students to the
diseases that pigeon contamination can bring. Pigeon contamination is serious, and can result in these health risks:
Histoplasmosis: likely the most common disease associated with pigeons and bird contamination. Histoplasmosis is a fungal lung disease that is transmitted from pigeons to humans via dust and dander. The fungal spores would grow in a pile such as the one shown above, and then blow throughout the building. Yikes! Under damp and humid conditions, such as here in Florida, mold can grow easily. When the feather dander and dust are disturbed, such as when air flows through this duct, the spores can fly in the air, the mold can be inhaled and lodged in the lungs of the students or staff, where it can grow into a serious infection if not caught and treated.
Cryptococcosis: is another fungal disease associated with pigeon droppings, though it is actually unlikely that healthy people will become infected. Most people who contract cryptococcosis have compromised immune systems, such as HIV carriers.
Parasites: Includes the Pigeon Nest Bug and the bat bug (both related to the beg bug), soft ticks, biting lice and the pigeon flythese parasites. Though these parasites can bite and irritate, they are unlikely to transmit diseases to humans. The northern fowl mite and chicken mite are also possible in a pile of droppings like this. Although most parasites associated with bird droppings or nests die quickly after the birds leave, some may live for several weeks. Droppings, feathers, food and dead birds under a roosting area can breed flies, carpet beetles and other insects that may become a problem in the immediate area.
Cleaning: This duct should have been cleaned and decontaminated. To clean the waste and the potential fungal spores, cleanup should be done by a professional, using both powerful disinfectants and enzyme-based organic waste cleaners. If I were to do this job, I'd wear a respirator that can filter particles as small as 0.3 microns and wear a disposable biohazard suit with gloves. During the cleanup, I'd have sealed heating and cooling air ducts and shut the system down. I'd vacuum out the main bulk of droppings, but first I'd moisten the droppings with a Disinfectant to keep spores from becoming airborne and keep them wet. All the poop and nesting material would be stored in sealed plastic garbage bags 3 mil thick, and when finished and while still wearing the respirator, I'd remove the biohazard suit and place it in the plastic bag. For parasite control, the roost area should be treated with a residual insecticide appropriately labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for control of fleas, ticks, mites and similar pests.
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A pigeon infestation is often not taken as seriously as a visible presence of other pests such as mice or cockroaches. If the pigeons don't make their way inside our houses or commercial buildings, we seem to accept their presence on the outside and ignore it. However, giving pigeons a free pass is one of our biggest mistakes – we shouldn't be getting accustomed to their presence as a pigeon infestation comes with some serious health risks and damages to your property. As harmless as they may seem, pigeons carry various diseases that can be an active threat to people and pets.
Damage caused by a pigeon infestation
There is no need to mention that pigeon droppings are very unsightly. With the whole flock roosting and nesting on top of our house or any commercial building, we can be sure that the exteriors won't be looking nice for very long. Moreover, pigeon droppings contain acid which can deteriorate soft stone and some other building materials. When it comes to a pigeon infestation, their droppings accumulate and bring even more damage. Pigeon feces can deface the exterior façade and the interiors of the building. Another problem we face when dealing with a pigeon infestation is their nests and feathers which can block gutters and rainwater pipes. This can often lead to water damage inside the building. These birds are also very smart and can lift loose roof coverings or tiles, which then gives them entry inside or lets them nest in the roof voids. Such behavior often leads to structural damage and also allows water penetration, which then can cause the growth of wood-rotting fungi. Many insects are attracted to the damp and rotting environment, and their presence can only lead to further decay.
Health risks of a pigeon infestation
Pigeons are known for being disease carriers as they travel long distances and therefore can harbor various parasites and pathogens on their way. Birds such as pigeons can spread diseases in different ways, but the most obvious one is through direct contact with water or food sources that are then consumed by humans or pets. Pigeons spread diseases indirectly – through their droppings. The spores from dried-out feces become airborne and can enter vents or air-conditioning systems that lead inside buildings.
Some of the diseases that pigeons can spread are:
Histoplasmosis – an infection a person can get from inhaling fungal spores. The symptoms may include fever, dry cough, and fatigue. Histoplasmosis can be dangerous to people with a weak immune system.
E. Coli – this is a bacterial infection in which symptoms can include diarrhea, pneumonia, respiratory illness, or others.
Candidiasis – a fungal infection that usually affects the mouth and throat; commonly known as ‘thrush'.
Salmonellosis – this infection is caused by Salmonella bacteria and in some cases can be very serious or even fatal. This is something we often call ‘food poisoning'. People can get infected when the dust from pigeon droppings contaminates the food someone is about to consume.