The Facility Manager’s Guide To Prevention of Avian Flu and Other Bird-Borne Diseases

With a growing climate of fear over the avian flu and talk in the news of a potential pandemic, it is good idea to take a look at practical things facility managers can do to minimize the risk of bird-borne diseases.

How do people get the avian flu? Avian influenza viruses circulate among birds worldwide. Certain birds, particularly water birds (e.g. wild ducks and Canadian geese), act as hosts for influenza viruses by carrying the virus in their intestines and shedding it. Infected birds shed the virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds can become infected with avian influenza virus when they have contact with contaminated nasal, respiratory, or fecal material from infected birds. Most often, the wild birds that are host to the virus do not get sick, but they can spread influenza to other birds. Some highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza are very dangerous to poultry and other domestic birds, while other low pathogenic strains are not considered dangerous.

Nearly all of the reported human cases of the avian flu have involved contact with infected birds: butchering or plucking chickens, eating undercooked poultry, or spending time in areas contaminated with the blood or droppings of birds. So far the risk of transmission from patients to other people has been low. But experts fear that this evolving virus will gain the ability to spread easily from person to person; for instance, by swapping genes with a human flu virus.

In the investigation of the cases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, humans who have been infected with the avian flu (H5N1) virus, have had substantial contact with blood, feces, or other secretions of infected birds. The virus can stay alive on handrails, etc. where birds have been, but only for several hours. In different environments though, such as in a cold pond, it can stay alive for days.

Where the avian flu typically is ingested by mouth through feces-contaminated water, other bird-borne diseases are ingested by breathing airborne spores of bird feces. Entomologist research has found more than 60 transmittable diseases and dangerous parasitic organisms which can be fatal to some people and cause others to fall ill. When dried-out droppings are disturbed, a cloud of airborne dust carries microorganisms into the lungs, causing inhalation diseases such as histoplasmosis, which is the most common of the diseases accociated with pest birds. Eating or drinking foods that have come into contact with bird-related bacteria can cause ingestion diseases such as toxoplasmosis and query fever.

Birds have also been known to transmit the West Nile virus. West Nile virus has been detected in dead birds of at least 138 species. Although birds, particularly crows and jays, infected with West Nile virus can die or become ill, most infected birds do survive.

What can a layperson do to stay safe? Since we don’t know if people can become infected through handling, eating, or getting bitten by infected host animals, care should be taken when in a potentially risky situation. Use gloves when picking up dead birds or mammals, or grab the carcass with a plastic bag and then invert it to the inside of the bag. Contact your County or State Health Department. If they want the dead bird or animal they will make arrangements to come get it. If not, it’s best to double bag it in plastic and put it in the trash.

How can facility managers help? Whether on ledges of residential buildings, monuments, parks and recreation buildings, or around food distribution centers, bird droppings are a health hazard which can be alleviated with a variety of bird control devices.

According to Cory Gellerstedt of Nixalite of America, there are several routes that can be taken to control roosting birds. Gellerstedt offers this advice for choosing bird control systems:

Identify the problem. Before purchasing a bird control system you must first identify the problem. Start by identifying the type and number of birds causing the problem. Make a note of all the areas where the birds are landing and roosting. If the actual birds are not present at the time of inspection, look for nests and droppings on the building and below on sidewalks, awnings, signs, etc. Look for nearby water and or food sources and if possible eliminate them.

Research the Available Bird Control Products. There are many different products on the market that claim to be effective bird barriers, but don’t believe everything you read or hear. Spend time to research the facts. First, look for a reputable company that has a proven track record. Next, call the company and explain your problem and ask for their advice. A reliable company will offer free technical support including drawings and installation plans for your particular job. Some jobs may require one or more products to effectively repel all the birds. Do not buy one particular product based on price alone. There are many factors to consider such as maintenance costs, the product’s life-span, and installation costs. The following is a list of non-lethal products available.

Product Types
Bird Netting:
Netting is a good choice for access control. If you have an open warehouse, building or overhang where birds are getting up into the rafters and beams, bird netting is an effective and economical choice. When choosing netting, it should be strong and lightweight with openings 3/4″ square or smaller. Larger openings may not prevent smaller birds like sparrows from getting through. Make sure the netting is a dark color and ultraviolet stabilized to reduce deterioration from exposure to the elements. There are different ways of installing bird netting; some may be very simple while others may require an experienced contractor. Bird netting can be used for other applications like netting off decorative columns and ledges, but doing so may hamper the aesthetics because it can be highly visible.

Porcupine Wire:
Porcupine wire is a generic description for mechanical barriers with spikes pointing up to repel birds. There are many different uses for this type of repellent. Some of them include building ledges, parapets, roof ridges, gutters, signs, awnings, air conditioners, rafters, shutters and almost anywhere a bird can land. Today there are many different types of porcupine wire and you should be very careful when choosing one of these products. Some of the deterrents are constructed of all high quality stainless steel, some are made of plastic, and others use a combination of the two. The stainless steel models cost a bit more, but the longevity they provide is worth it. Plastic can become brittle when cold and soft when it is hot and will eventually deteriorate from direct exposure to sunlight.

Sticky Paste and liquid repellents:
This type of product works by spreading a non-drying, non-toxic sticky substance on the surface that you want to protect. When the birds land, the compound tends to irritate their feet so they leave the protected area. There are many different brands of sticky repellents, all of which work about the same. The effectiveness of this type of products is limited. Over time the compound will discolor and attract dirt, bugs, and debris— which will drastically reduce the product’s effectiveness. When this happens, the compound will have to be cleaned up and reapplied. You must also be careful not to put too much down; it may tend to run in hot weather and small birds may get caught in it. If the compound gets on or in the birds’ wings it can prevent them from flying and may injure the bird. You must also keep in mind that if not enough compound is applied, it may not repel the birds at all. As with all products mentioned, follow the manufacturer’s directions closely.

Pin and Wire:
Pin and wire systems have been used for many years with a varying degree of success. As another form of mechanical barrier, pin and wire systems work on the theory that birds will not land where tight strands of wire cover the surface. This type of system can be very labor intensive. Pin and wire barriers generally blend in well, but should only be used for repelling large birds in very light pressure areas. In heavy infestation situations, birds can roost and build nests into the wires. These systems work best when covering very narrow surfaces such as railings, along balconies, and where there is moderate human activity.

Some companies have modified the wire systems to transmit a low voltage current through the wires to help repel the birds. This type of system is more effective but very expensive to install and requires considerable maintenance. If not installed properly, the electric wires may present a fire hazard.

Ultrasonic and Noise devices:
Ultrasonic devices are not effective for repelling birds and there are no scientific studies that prove that birds can even hear them. Noise devices are better suited for the agricultural areas where the target birds have alarm signals. Urban pigeons are accustomed to loud noises and do not scare off easily. The use of these loud devices in the urban setting may actually create more of a nuisance than the birds themselves.

Scare Away Devices:
Owl statues, balloons and reflective strips used to scare away birds may only work for a few days or maybe a week if you are lucky. The scare balloons seem to work better than the owls because they move around with the wind. You may find it helpful to frequently change the balloon position and color, to help prevent the birds from getting used to them.

Planning the Installation:
After you have chosen the most effective product or combination of products, you must decide if you want to install it yourself or have a qualified contractor do the job. Either way make sure that all areas have been carefully measured to ensure that you order the correct amount of materials. Before installing any system, clean the entire area thoroughly and remove dirt, nests and all bird dung. Most importantly: follow all of the manufacturer’s directions and recommendations. You will not have the expense of doing the job again, if you do it right the first time. Picking the right product, following directions and a little common sense is all it takes to successfully do the job.