Bird Diseases Humans Can Catch – What you need to know

Pest birds deface and damage property, displace native bird species, and create a general nuisance. They also spread several Zoonotic diseases.

What are Zoonotic diseases?

The NSW Department of Primary Industries states they are ‘infectious diseases that can pass from animals to humans. Seventy-five per cent of new human diseases are zoonotic’.

Read our guide to learn how the diseases and infections spread, which birds carry them, what symptoms they cause, and how to protect against pest birds.

Types of Bird Diseases in Australia

There are several ways for a disease to spread. It can be viral, fungal, or bacterial.

Any human who comes into contact with an infected bird can get a disease. It can be spread through feathers, faeces, and any form of contact.

Insects and parasites are another frequent way that diseases get spread. A mite or mosquito can feed on the blood of a bird, absorb its infection, and spread it to a human they use as their next host.

Are Human and Sick Bird Symptoms Always the Same?

The effect of bird diseases and their symptoms differ depending on the health of the species they infect. Those with compromised immune systems are more likely to get a severe case. This applies to both birds and humans.

Bird disease symptoms in humans can differ from what infected birds experience. They can be more severe or even deadly to the bird while only causing flu-like symptoms in humans.

Bird Diseases Humans Can Catch

Not every infection that affects birds can be transferred to humans, but many can. Pest birds are the most common spreaders because they tend to congregate in areas where humans also live in search of food.

Types of diseases that humans and birds can transfer to each other include influenza, mites, psittacosis, encephalitis, histoplasmosis, and E. coli or salmonella infections.

Avian Influenza

Also known as bird flu, there are several mutations of this disease, the most common of which is H5N1. Birds can spread it to humans through their feces or saliva for up to 10 days.

The most common effects of avian influenza are flu-like symptoms. This can include a cough, diarrhea, respiratory issues, fevers of over 38 C, head and muscle aches, a runny nose, and/or a sore throat.

Avian influenza is always deadly for birds but can still be serious for humans.

Prevention involves avoiding infected birds and reporting any dead specimens you see to the public health authorities.

Avian Tuberculosis

Avian tuberculosis is a type of bacterial infection that spreads slowly and tends to affect captive birds more than wild birds. It’s contracted when humans ingest food or water contaminated with feces from infected birds. Humans who are infected can experience a local wound and swelling near the site of infection.

Bird Mites and Lice

Bird mites are oval-shaped arachnids with 8 legs. The 2 most common species in Australia are domestic starling and red poultry mites.

These parasites are less than a millimetre long and transparent, making them difficult to see. They turn red when they ingest blood.

Bird mites have a lifespan of only 7 days but can reproduce quickly during that time. They can bite any part of the human body but don’t burrow beneath the skin.

Symptoms of a bird mite infestation include itching, crawling sensations, bite reactions, bacterial infections from scratching, and sleep disturbances.

Pest bird species that spread mites include starlings, Myna birds, and pigeons.

There are several ways to prevent bird mites. Wear protective clothing. Clean, destroy, or replace infected furniture or carpets. Call a professional pest control company if the infestation becomes severe.


Psticaccosis – a respiratory disease otherwise known as Parrot Fever – is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci. It has an incubation period of 1 week to 1 month.

Symptoms include fever, head and muscle aches, dry coughs, and shortness of breath.

Diagnosing psittacosis involves blood tests and chest x-rays. Treatment involves a full course of antibiotics.


Encephalitis is a viral disease that can be transmitted to humans from birds via mosquitoes. It results in an inflammation of the brain that can cause other symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Head and muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Problems with movement or with senses
  • Abdominal pain

House sparrows and pigeons are two species that are most likely to get infected with encephalitis.


Histoplasmosis is spread by a fungus called Histoplasma. It grows in soil contaminated by bird and bat droppings.

Symptoms include feeling ill, fever, chest pains, and a dry cough.

Starlings are a bird species known to spread this disease.

E. Coli and Salmonella

These potentially deadly bacteria affect the digestive system. If you eat anything that’s contaminated by the droppings of a bird that’s infected with E.coli or salmonella, you could get very sick or even die.

Pigeons are one of the most likely bird species to carry these bacteria, but other pest birds could spread it as well. They’ll nest anywhere they like and protect their spot, even if the area is full of human food.

What you should do

There are several pest bird species in Australia, including starlings, Myna birds, and feral pigeons.

There is also a range of bird diseases in Australia that spread to humans. They can affect every part of the body, from the brain to the digestive system.

The best way to protect yourself is to remove these pest birds before they spread infection. Look into our effective bird control services today.

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