Bird diseases that can be transmitted to humans and pets

Whilst birds are usually valuable parts of our natural environment, like all wild animals, they have the potential to carry some harmful diseases. Whilst many such diseases are exclusively bird-to-bird, there is a significant number that can be transmitted and harm people, and people’s beloved pets. Many of these diseases are transmitted via the birds’ feces, but they can also be transmitted via the skin or feathers of the birds. Here are six diseases that can be passed from a bird to humans, other animals, or both:

Diseases that can be caught by humans

Avian Flu

Perhaps the most famous of all avian diseases, and one that can destroy billions of dollars’ worth of poultry, avian flu, or avian influenza, is a common viral disease. Although bird-to-bird transmission is prevalent, it is actually reasonably uncommon for humans to contract this virus, and it is not very contagious. 

Nevertheless, the symptoms are damaging and usually consist of a severe fever and conjunctivitis. If the infected person has a weak immune system or a damaged respiratory system, breathing problems are likely, and organ damage is a possibility. As it is a viral infection, treatment is focused on lessening the symptoms, so an antiviral medicine such as oseltamivir or zanamivir isusually the way to go.

Avian Tuberculosis

Avian tuberculosis is a form of tuberculosis, a bacterial infection that can be carried by birds. It can be very deadly, and if left untreated, over half of all those infected would die. Thankfully, the disease is very rare in the US, and the vaccine is reasonably effective. Nevertheless, the transmission is still a risk. Also, 90% of all those infected will have latent tuberculosis, which is asymptomatic. However, symptoms of tuberculosis are severe. Victims have a severe fever and a horrific cough that involves the coughing up of mucus and blood. Weight loss is common, further hindering your body’s disease prevention capabilities. A plethora of complications is possible, resulting in multiple organ failures. Tuberculosis is very contagious due to the fact that sneezing and coughing are common symptoms.


A rare but damaging zoonotic disease, psittacosis is also known as parrot fever but can be transmitted by a variety of different species including pigeons. If infected, a person will not show symptoms for weeks, and some will deal with it asymptomatically. However, for those with weaker immune systems, the disease can cause anything from fever to severe pneumonia, comas, or even death. 

Thankfully, the fatality rate is less than 1%, and there are effective antibiotics such as doxycycline that can treat the majority of patients. Human-to-human transmission is very rare, maintaining this disease’s rarity.


A fungal disease, histoplasmosis is transmitted via spores growing in birds’ guano. Whilst it is a mild disease for healthy people, it is a common illness amongst those infected with AIDS and other immune deficiencies. Those with respiratory conditions are also at risk, due to the fact the infection targets the lungs. However, for those with a weaker immune system, complications can follow that cause organ failure. After transmission, the infection is dormant for a couple of weeks before provoking feverish symptoms, often indistinguishable from the flu. This is the worst it can get for those with a healthy immune system, as 90% of those infected are entirely asymptomatic and do not require any treatment to eradicate the disease. However, for the 5% who require intensive care, chronic lung failure, and even death can occur. In the severest cases, antifungal medication such as amphotericin B can be used as treatment.

Diseases that can be caught by your pets


Cryptococcosis is a fungal disease that can affect cats and dogs as well as humans. For pets, symptoms are at worst ulcers, tissue inflammation, and infection of the sinuses. However, for humans who are immune deficient, the disease can be very damaging, even fatal. People can experience feverish symptoms, plus blurred vision and hallucinations. Meningitis, a brain disease, is also a potential complication. 

If the infection occurs outside the central nervous system, a lumbar puncture, where a needle is inserted into the spinal canal, is necessary to ascertain whether or not meningitis is a risk. Treatments are complicated but usually involve flucytosine.


This is a version of chlamydia that almost exclusively affects animals. For dogs, the symptoms can be quite severe, with an intense cough, severe conjunctivitis, vomiting, diarrhea, and even brain damage. Many dogs need veterinary help to avoid fatal consequences but treatments are available, albeit expensive. The disease is a lot milder in cats, but still not ideal. Primarily, the sole symptom is conjunctivitis, often severe, and consistent. Inflammation of the eye lining can cause the eye to go red, swollen, and potentially produce pus. Administering eye drops to your cat may be necessary.

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