Chicken Little in the Parrot Aviary

Chicken Little

Some of you are going huh? No the sky is not falling but yep, I have it on good authority that there are those who have introduced chickens in with exotic birds. My only comment, after the extended sound of silence, are you bleeping kidding me? I had to take a moment to wrap my head around that one. I have never been a poultry farmer, but we already know that chickens can carry Salmonella, and E-Coli. That is just the genesis of the issues. So I ask you why would you do this in the first place? The excuse is to clean up seed that is dropped by the parrots in the aviary. I call that excuse lazy, and dangerous not only to the parrots that you have, but to those working, with or around your aviaries. These diseases can be transmitted from birds to humans, and back to birds in your own home via shoes, and clothing.

Mycoplasma or mycoplasmosis is a chronic respiratory disease affecting the lungs, air sacs, and sinuses. The disease was originally identified in domestic turkeys in 1905 and in chickens in the 1930’s. Losses in the poultry industries are the result of condemned and downgraded carcasses at slaughter, reduced egg production, poor feed conversion, and medication costs.

Mycoplasmosis is a highly transmissible disease and is transmitted in-house finches and other passerine birds via ocular discharge. The disease is most commonly spread at bird feeders and at roost sites. M. Gallisepticum does not survive outside the body for any length of time. Transmission usually occurs when large flocks feed or roost closely together and the organism is spread via the eye secretions to neighboring birds. Tube style bird feeders are the most likely type of feeder to allow transmission because eye secretions from a diseased bird can be rubbed on the feeder opening and other birds feeding in that opening can then acquire the bacteria. Eye lesions develop within 12 weeks of exposure. Infected finches are responsible for spreading this disease because they move between bird feeders and to other areas during migration (reference: Michigan DNR)

Campylobactor or Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the genus Campylobacter. Most people who become ill with Campylobacteriosis get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism. The diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The illness typically lasts one week. Some infected persons do not have any symptoms. In persons with compromised immune systems, Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes a serious life-threatening infection.

Campylobacter is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States. The vast majority of cases occur as isolated, sporadic events, not as part of recognized outbreaks. Active surveillance through FoodNet indicates that about 13 cases are diagnosed each year for each 100,000 persons in the population. Many more cases go undiagnosed or unreported, and Campylobacteriosis is estimated to affect over 2.4 million persons every year, or 0.8% of the population. Campylobacteriosis occurs much more frequently in the summer months than in the winter. The organism is isolated from infants and young adults more frequently than from persons in other age groups and from males more frequently than females. Although Campylobacter does not commonly cause death, it has been estimated that approximately 124 persons with Campylobacter infections die each year.

Campylobacter organisms are spiral-shaped bacteria that can cause disease in humans and animals. Most human illness is caused by one species, called Campylobacter jejuni, but human illness can also be caused by other species. Campylobacter jejuni grows best at the body temperature of a bird, and seems to be well adapted to birds, who carry it without becoming ill. These bacteria are fragile. They cannot tolerate drying and can be killed by oxygen. They grow only in places with less oxygen than the amount in the atmosphere. Freezing reduces the number of Campylobacter bacteria on raw meat.

Many different kinds of infections can cause diarrhea and bloody diarrhea. Campylobacter infection is diagnosed when a culture of a stool specimen yields the organism.

Almost all persons infected with Campylobacter recover without any specific treatment. Patients should drink extra fluids as long as the diarrhea lasts. In more severe cases, antibiotics such as azithromycin or erythromycin can shorten the duration of symptoms if given early in the illness. Your doctor will decide whether antibiotics are necessary.

Most people who get Campylobacteriosis recover completely within two to five days although sometimes recovery can take up to 10 days. Rarely, Campylobacter infection results in long-term consequences. Some people develop arthritis. Others may develop a rare disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome that affects the nerves of the body beginning several weeks after the diarrhea illness. This occurs when a person’s immune system is “triggered” to attack the body’s own nerves resulting in paralysis that lasts several weeks and usually requires intensive care. It is estimated that approximately one in every 1,000 reported Campylobacter illnesses leads to Guillain-Barré syndrome. As many as 40% of Guillain-Barré syndrome cases in this country may be triggered by Campylobacteriosis.

Campylobacteriosis usually occurs in single, sporadic cases, but it can also occur in outbreaks, when a number of people become ill at one time. Most cases of Campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or under-cooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Infants may get the infection by contact with poultry packages in shopping carts. Outbreaks of Campylobacter are usually associated with unpasteurized milk or contaminated water. Animals can also be infected, and some people have acquired their infection from contact with the stool of an ill dog or cat. The organism is not usually spread from one person to another, but this can happen if the infected person is producing a large volume of diarrhea.

A very small number of Campylobacter organisms (fewer than 500) can cause illness in humans. Even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat can infect a person. One way to become infected is to cut poultry meat on a cutting board, and then use the unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or other raw or lightly cooked foods. The Campylobacter organisms from the raw meat can thus spread to the other foods. Many chicken flocks are infected with Campylobacter but show no signs of illness. Campylobacter can be easily spread from bird to bird through a common water source or through contact with infected feces. When an infected bird is slaughtered, Campylobacter organisms can be transferred from the intestines to the meat. In 2005, Campylobacter was present on 47% of raw chicken breasts tested through the FDA-NARMS Retail Food program. Campylobacter is also present in the giblets, especially the liver. (reference: CDC/National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases)

I could spend all day and maybe more researching this and not come close to finding all the poultry diseases that could be passed to Parrots. What it comes down to is a plain simple statement. Never, never, ever do it. The risks far exceed the rewards. One simple mistake could cause major outbreaks that could not only affect our parrots, but also the poultry industry, even reaching into indigenous wildlife. Maybe the name New Castles Disease will jolt your memory, the reason quarantine stations were set up here in the U.S. Quit looking for any easy way out.

There are so many resources for both sides of the issue. But it just so seems insane to this writer to take that kind of a risk. I am no veterinarian, but when I broached the subject with a veterinarian friend, his comment was “Are they insane? That’s all I needed to hear.

But for those who want to know about it, I actually found a site called backyardchickens.com where the topic is somewhat discussed. Then there is http://www.parrotpro.com/poultry.php. In the research for this article which came in a few reliable sources that there were at least two sanctuaries, and one rescue employing this method. Also it appears to be more common than originally thought.
This whole story stems from what is a report of two pet birds dying from what is still yet an unconfirmed case of Campylobacter. We are hoping to get copies of the necropsy from the source of the report.

ABOUT: The author of this article written for The Winged Defense League has elected to remain anonymous.

Note: PLEASE, share this important information. There is a growing trend among persons with exotic bird aviaries and even in one exotic bird retail store that has been confirmed to have freely roaming chickens around to serve as the cleaning crew. It’s not only dangerous but reckless. Ignorance abounds. I suggest everyone with exotic birds research Communicable Diseases of Poultry and/or Fowl. Thank you.

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