11 July 2024

Feeding birds is a lot of fun and helps people to connect with nature, which is known to bring benefits to health. It’s considered a form of merit-making to many people as they are helping the wildlife to survive. But doctors are warning that our avian friends can spread infectious diseases to humans through their dried feces that contain fungi and bacteria. Breathing these in can make people sick and even cause serious illness.  

Such cases have been recorded in the past and one of the most recent reported in the Thai media concerned an actor being rushed to hospital for treatment.

Last week, a Thai actor posted a warning on his personal Instagram about the danger of pigeon droppings while in hospital for an infection believed to be linked to bird poop.

The actor said that a couple of days earlier he was filming a TV series on location an ancient temple that is full of dust, bird droppings and insects. The weather was bad and it was pouring with rain.

He said he felt discomfort after work. His nose became inflamed and swollen the following day. The star went to a hospital for an examination. His doctor told him that he appeared to have caught an infection – a fungus called cryptococcus neoformans which can be found in pigeon droppings.

The actor reminded people to regularly wash their hands and keep in good health to ward off infection.

Birds’ feces are toxic to humans  

Dr Nopporn Apiwattanakul from the Department of Pediatrics, Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital said pigeon droppings contain a fungus called cryptococcus that can cause infections in humans when they inhale dust contaminated with bird droppings or are exposed directly to the animal’s faces.

He added that the fungus can cause lung infections and disorders such as meningitis, an acute brain infection carried by the birds.

The doctor was talking to the media in an interview that was published on Rama Channel.

Those with weakened immunity are most vulnerable to the infections though many people do not get sick, the infectious diseases specialist noted.

Chlamydia, bacteria that can infect people and cause pneumonia, are also present in the bird’s droppings, Dr Nopporn said.

The doctor advised people to look after their health and always wear face masks when feeding birds.  Hands and any exposed skin should be thoroughly washed afterwards.

“If you have problems with your immune system, you shouldn’t go anywhere where you will be surrounded by pigeons to prevent possible infection,” Dr Nopporn said.

‘Don’t feed the birds please’

Pigeons nesting in the city is a chronic problem that has gone on for years, with fixes having been relatively temporary.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has launched measures and campaigns to control the population of pigeons in public areas including in the city’s old temples famous for merit making amid concerns over the rising number of the birds and serious health risks. But City Hall insists that any measures it takes to regulate feeding must not harm the birds.

BMA officials captured flocks of pigeons living around a pier in front of Wat Rakhang Khositaram (the Temple of the Bells) close to the Chao Phraya River as the birds were damaging the temple property and affecting boat passengers and nearby communities. They also put cage traps at Wat Bukkhalo in Thonburi to relocate them due to overcrowding.

Health officials took blood samples from the birds to test for diseases before moving them.

However, some experts don’t support the BMA’s catch-and release plan, saying releasing the birds to other areas just means moving the problem to another place. The pigeons would return to the city where sources of food are abundant from temple visitors, tourists and street food stalls.

The BMA has also rolled out an educational campaign by putting up signs in public areas asking people not to feed the pigeons and explaining why. Officials believe that if people stop feeding the birds, they will stop gathering in public places where their droppings put people’s health at risk.

Panruedee Manomaipiboon, director of the BMA’s Health Department, recently told all 50 district chiefs that large placards should be installed in public areas to warn people against feeding the birds.

However, the method appears to be failing in stopping the public showing their love for the animals. They ignore the signs and continue feeding them.

Telling people to stop feeding birds seems to be tricky. Giving food to animals is part of merit-making activities and has been practiced by Buddhists for decades. Vendors make a living by selling the bird food to temple visitors and tourists.

To address concerns of public health and hygiene, the BMA has also imposed a ban on feeding birds that could land violators a three-month jail term and a maximum fine of up to 25,000 baht.

The City Hall may need to intensify its efforts to resolve this problem. Other methods might need to be employed to limit flock size and ensure public health safety, while keeping all parties involved in this complex issue happy.

How to keep pigeons away from your house

Pigeon droppings are not only unattractive and smelly but also potentially harmful to humans. To keep the birds out of the roof and the balcony of your house, experts suggest hanging old CDs on a tree that creates a movement irritating to the birds and frightens them away. Or you can use a fake hawk to scare them away.

Pigeon netting is another effective and humane way to banish the birds.  Applying herbal repellent spray to areas where the pigeons have been found is also good. The birds hate pungent smell of the spray.