Avian Related Diseases

The Facts About Pigeons and Disease
An AU Research Update

Pigeons have been closely associated with Man for many millennia. Pigeon physiology is so different from that of humans and other mammals that they share very few diseases in common. Pigeons are not susceptible to most diseases as their rapid metabolism and high body temperature (107 F) makes infection by bacteria or viruses rare. However, there are a few possible concerns.

Avian Influenza strains in North American birds do not and cannot infect pigeons. This includes all North American combinations of II-types and N-types, espe­cially H5N1, H5N2 and all the H7 types as well. This has been proved repeatedly experimen­tally in several laboratories; a few recent examples are referenced as follows:.

  1. B. Panigraphy. D.A. Senne, J.C. Pedersen, A.L. Shafer, J.E. Pearson, Susceptibility of Pigeons to Avian Influenza, Avian Diseases, Vol. 40. No. 3 (July-Sep.,1996) pp.600-604

  2. Laura E. Leigh Perkins, David E. Swayne, Pathogenicity of a Hong Kong-Origin H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus for Emus, Geese, Ducks and Pigeons, Avian Diseases, Vol. 46. No. 1 (.June-March, 2002), pp. 53-63
  3. L.E.L. Perkins. D.E. Swayne, Comparative Susceptibility of Selected Asian and Mammalian Species to a Hong Kong-Origin H5N1 High-Pathogenicity Avian Influenza Virus, Avian Diseases,. Vol. 47. Special Issue. Proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium on Avian Influenza (2003). pp. 956--967

USDA: (USF & WS) are also actively monitoring both domestic poultry and wild birds for possible invasion of new strains.

West Nile Virus Pigeons are very poor hosts for West Nile vi­rus. They do not generally show any signs of disease; remaining infected at a low level for a few days and unable to transmit the virus to a mosquito, bird or human. 

Officials at the Center, for Disease Control tested flocks of pigeons and challenged them. It is now confirmed that pigeons are not a significant pool for the virus. As with Asian In­fluenza, they do not get it, shed it or transmit it, nor do they serve as a vector for the disease for either humans or other animals (Nick Komar - Centers for Disease Control, Ft. Collins, CO)

Newcastle Disease is caused by a Paramyxo virus, and can be a threat to the poultry indus­try. There are two general categories of Newcastle Disease: Highly pathogenic Exotic Newcastle is a significant threat to the poultry in­dustry and is eradicated rapidly and deci­sively by the USDA and state veterinary offi­cials; hence it is quite rare, and its occurrence is an exceptional event. Exotic Newcastle can cause disease in unvaccinated pigeons. The less pathogenic strains of Newcastle are generally not hosted well by pigeons. Pigeons vaccinated for Pigeon Paramyxo virus, under the AU recommended biosecurity protocols, are generally resistant to these strains found in the poultry industry and wild birds. 

Strains of Ornithosis (Chlamydia) that pigeons can host generally do not cause disease in humans. There are two reasons for this: pigeons are extremely poor transmitters of Chlamydia to humans, and pigeon strains of Chlamydia are not pathogenic to humans: 

Paramyxo Virus does infect pigeons specifically: it is endemic in feral pigeons. Several vaccines are available which effectively protect pigeons from this dis­ease; young pigeons are routinely vaccinated before training, and old birds are boosted annu­ally as part of the AU recommended biosecu­rity protocols. Under normal field conditions, this strain of virus does not cause disease in domestic poultry. 

Salmonella extremely variable and has a wide host range which does include birds. By adhering to the standards of human and avian hygiene currently practiced in the U.S. as well as the biosecurity protocols recommended by the AU, a person can easily avoid becoming infected. Moreover, the strains of Salmonella that infect pigeons can be quite easily treated with antibiotics in the unlikely event of infec­tion of either a human or domestic animal.

Blastomyes, Histoplasma (the dimorphic fungi) grow in nitrogen rich decaying organic matter and have been associated with various settings, including wild bird roosts. Pigeons themselves cannot host, carry or shed these fungi, nor do well maintained pigeon lofts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, birds do not carry histoplasmosis and it is not transmitted from person to person. Infants, young children and older adults with chronic lung disease may be at increased risk for the disease. Disseminated disease is more frequently seen in people with cancer, AIDS or other forms of immunosuppression.

Proper Loft Management is essential to good health. Fanciers that are heavily involved with their flocks on a daily basis should always practice proper hygiene. The American Racing Pigeon Union has developed basic biosecurity protocols; reviewed and approved by the USDA. These include:

  1. Wash hands before and af­ter handling pigeons or pigeon equipment.

  2. After visiting a pigeon loft or pigeon event, change and laun­der your clothes, or wear cov­eralls and launder them afterwards.

Pigeons are ideal for introducing children to the animal world; however such encounters should be closely supervised by parents. 

Veterinary Position Statement Regarding the Health Aspects of Pigeon Keeping, From the AU Scientific Advisory Taskforce (A committee of the American Racing Pigeon Union, Inc. commissioned January 2004),  Approved as a resolution of the American Racing Pigeon Union on July 18, 2004 

The keeping and recreational use of pigeons, under currently accepted standards of pigeon husbandry and hygiene, is a safe activity and poses no particular hazards to public health or to health and safety of pigeon caretakers beyond the normal risks posed by keeping any animal. There are no zoonotic diseases specific to pigeons. For healthy, immune-competent people, keeping pigeons in accord with avicultural stan­dards is a very safe activity. 

Pigeons are extremely easy to keep, with very simple nutritional and husbandry requirements. They can comfortably tolerate a wide variety of environmental conditions, and adapt very read­ily and comfortably to a wide variety of avicultural situations and uses. Although relatively rare, the few diseases pigeons do get can be prevented with vaccines, or easily treated with readily available medications. Within the field of Veterinary Medicine, there is a specialty of Avian Medicine that can assist pigeon fanciers in keeping their birds healthy and comfortable.

In consideration of data from the United States Communicable Disease Center, and from research pertaining to pedigreed Homing Pigeons, we affirm that to our knowledge, the above statement is true.

  • Paul Miller, DVM (PA)

  • Roger Harlin, DVM (OK)

  • Robert Lynch, Ph. E (GA)

  • Jim Vanderheid, DDS (CA)

  • James Higgins DVM (PA)

  • Warren Shetrone, DVM (HI)

  • John Kazmierczak, DVM (NJ)

The American Racing Pigeon Union, Inc. would like to express sincere appreciation to
Paul Miller, DVM (PA), whose assistance as an expert in avian research was invaluable,
and Warren Shetrone, DVM (HI), who was instrumental in assisting the AU Scientific Taskforce.

American Racing Pigeon Union, Inc.
P.O. Box 18465
Oklahoma City, OK 73154-0465
(405) 848-5801
Fax (405) 848-5888

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