Kristen, you're right that birds can carry a number of diseases that can be dangerous to infants and children under age 5, whose immune systems are not yet well developed. They can also be dangerous for older people with lowered immunity due to medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer chemotherapy or organ transplant. The diseases carried by birds include:
- Chlamydia psittaci or psittacosis: This is a bacterial infection that can be carried by pet birds including parakeets, parrots, macaws and cockatiels as well as turkeys and ducks. It is more common in pet birds that have been smuggled into the country without getting checked for the disease.
- Cryptococcus neoformans: This is a fungal infection that can be carried by wild birds, including pigeons.
- Salmonella: This is a bacterial infection that can be carried by chickens, baby chicks and ducklings. It can also be carried by pet birds and reptiles.
All of these diseases spread through the feces or droppings of birds. Psittacosis and cryptococcus infections are spread by breathing in dust from dried droppings. Salmonella infection is spread by touching the bird or touching a surface the bird has touched or left droppings on. These infections can cause serious illness. Psittacosis can cause pneumonia, cryptococcus can cause meningitis and salmonella can cause diarrhea and fever. Sometimes, they can even be fatal.
If you have a baby or young child, it's best not to bring birds into your home as pets. Don't take your baby to a childcare program that has pet birds, baby chicks or ducks. Also, it's best not to take your baby to visit birds at petting farms or areas where wild birds congregate.
If you already have a bird at home, make sure it's checked for disease. Keep the bird away from the baby and where the baby plays, eats and sleeps. Clean the birdcage outside, and be sure to wash your hands well afterwards.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.