Helpful Hints

Bird Droppings: Nuisance or Health Hazard?

Histoplasma capsulatum is a fungus, found in the soil, that can cause the disease histoplasmosis. Fresh bird droppings, such as those on sidewalks, have not been shown to present a health risk for histoplasmosis because the birds are not infected by the fungus. However, accumulated bird or bat droppings, such as those in poultry house litter, attic areas harboring birds or bats, caves and bird roosts, can be hazardous because they provide a good nutrient source for the growth of Histoplasma capsulatum already present in soil. The Histoplasma spores become airborne when accumulated droppings are disturbed. Breathing the spores causes an infection that primarily affects the lungs. Histoplasmosis is not contagious. Whenever your work involves disturbing accumulated bird or bat droppings, such as during removal of droppings from a building, and during construction, excavation or demolition, it is safest to assume that the droppings are contaminated and use the following precautions to reduce your risk of exposure.

Before starting a job or activity that may expose you to Histoplasma capsulatum, consult the document Histoplasmosis: Protecting Workers at Risk, published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Center for Infectious Diseases. It contains detailed information on work practices and personal protective equipment that will reduce the risk of infection.

Work practices to use include:

  • Suppress dust by carefully wetting the droppings with a water spray.
  • Wear a NIOSH-approved respirator and other items of personal protective equipment to further reduce the risk of Histoplasma capsulatum exposure.

If you develop flu-like symptoms days or even weeks after disturbing material that might be contaminated with Histoplasma capsulatum, and the illness gets worse rather than subsiding after a few days, seek medical care and inform the healthcare provider about your exposure.

- Reprinted with permission from EH&S


Snow and Ice Can Make Walking Hazardous

Check out Helpful Hints When Walking on Snow or Ice on the EH&S website.