Did you know that a common activity like pigeon feeding can lead to chronic and sometimes fatal lung diseases? Senior Pulmonologist Dr Prahlad Prabhudesai answers our questions on health hazards caused by pigeons.
Can you imagine going to the park to feed rats? But, we often see people readily feeding pigeons. Scientific evidence reveals that pigeons can be equally hazardous to our health as rodents are. Due to readily available food (provided by humans), there is a marked increase in the pigeon population in metropolitan cities all over India, to the extent that we are accustomed to finding pigeons living in grooves of tall buildings and having Kabutar khanas (pigeon houses) scattered across the city.
Birds, including pigeons are known carriers of over 50 diseases that can affect and even be fatal to humans. Microbes of various diseases are transferred to humans via direct contact, contamination of water/food sources and inhalation or contact with their droppings. Most of these diseases are air-borne, meaning they are easily transferred through the air. Pigeons tend to aggregate and revisit areas where food is known to be available. Increased feeding leads to increased pooping and bird droppings in the same area.
Dr Prahlad Prabhudesai, why is exposure to pigeons harmful for humans? Should we be feeding pigeons?
Pigeon feeding is harmful to humans because pigeon droppings create strong allergens. Pigeons are also carriers of infections like fungus (Aspergillosis) which can give rise to diseases in patients especially with diabetes, immuno-compromised status and those who have hypersensitive immune systems.
How do pigeon droppings affect the respiratory system?
Pigeon droppings are highly acidic and can easily move in the atmosphere causing bronchitis and trigger asthma attacks in asthmatic patients.
What are the different lung diseases caused by pigeons?
There are various lung diseases caused by pigeons. Some of the most common lung ailments include Bronchial asthma, Chronic bronchitis, Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (HP), and fungal infections like Histoplasmosis, Aspergillosis, and Cryptococcosis. A flu-like illness called Psittacosis, also transmitted by pigeons, is a systemic disease which can lead to Atypical Pneumonia. Droppings can also contain bacterial infections such as Salmonella.
What is Bird Fancier’s disease?
It is a type of Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an extensive allergic disease caused due to bird allergens. It is triggered by exposure to avian proteins present in the dry dust of the droppings and sometimes in the feathers.
Which is the most common illness caused by exposure to pigeons in India?
It is not entirely known, but is likely to be Hypersensitivity pneumonitis(HP). According to statistics HP is most common form of ILD in India and in our clinical practice.
What symptoms should we watch out for to suspect onset of any lung disease?
Watch out for cough, breathlessness, wheezing, and crackles which seem to be non-resolving and long-lasting. If you have any of these symptoms, always be on the safe side and get yourself checked out by your Medical Practitioner.
How fatal are Lung diseases? Can they be reversed?
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis if it becomes chronic is very fatal and decreases the survival significantly also causing high morbidity. In the early stages, the illness can be reversed if we completely remove the exposure, otherwise it becomes chronic and progressive.
In what ways can we prevent risk of lung diseases caused by birds?
Prevention can be achieved by educating the public regarding the risk of pigeon feeding and avoiding pigeons in residential areas, especially in patients with existing lung diseases. Pigeon feeding should be strictly avoided!
Dr Prahlad Prabhu Desai (MD, DNB, FCCP) is a renowned Pulmonologist and lecturer in Mumbai for the past 28 years. He has been practicing at Lilavati Hospital since 20 years. His areas of expertise include all diffuse and obstructive lung diseases, smoking cessation and drug-resistant tuberculosis.
NOTE – This article was originally published in patientsengage and can be viewed here
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