Danger from Bird Diseases A Real Threat

December 2, 2005 – Posted at 4:19 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR -- While birds and diseases associated with birds is a hot topic right now, researchers say there is no more reason to worry than normal. The threat of Avian Bird Flu has many folks alarmed...but the real risk to humans may be something less exotic.

"Typically each year from October to March, we have blackbirds that come down from the north," said Jason Wilkie of the Jonesboro Parks, Recreation & Cemeteries Department, "They feed in the rice fields during the day and at night, the city is a bit warmer because of the asphalt and lights, and they come into roost here at night."

It's a constant fight between blackbirds and the city, but you can battle it with your very own hand launcher, rented free from JPRC.

"What research has shown is that a variety of noises at different times where birds roost is very effective. So really, the bangers alone are not the most effective, but a variety," said Wilkie.

It's not the actual birds that pose a threat, only what they leave behind. A lot of diseases caused by birds are transmitted through their droppings. Often, folks will touch a handrail like this and then forget to wash their hands.

"We've been dealing with issues of bird transmitted diseases for centuries," said Dr. Jeanette Loutsch of the ASU Biological Sciences.

Dr. Loutsch thinks our biggest challenge isn't Avian Bird Flu...but diseases like Psittacosis and Salmonella.

"Birds have a tendency to carry Histoplasmosis, which is a fungus that they secrete in their bird droppings. And when the droppings dry they can be blown around, you can breathe them in," said Dr. Loutsch.

And while the West Nile Virus is still a big issue, avoiding bird feces could make a difference. There are more than 60 different diseases associated with birds and their droppings, some of which can be deadly.