Do European starlings carry disease?

Answered by Stephen Mosley

European starlings have been known to carry and spread a variety of diseases, making them potential vectors of infection for humans, birds, and other animals. Their role as disease carriers is of significant concern, especially in situations where they come into close contact with other species or humans.

One of the diseases that starlings can transmit is avian influenza, also known as bird flu. This viral infection can be highly contagious and has the potential to cause severe illness in both birds and humans. Starlings can become infected with avian influenza and shed the virus in their feces, respiratory secretions, and saliva. This can contaminate the environment, including water sources and feed, and increase the risk of transmission to other birds or animals.

Another disease that starlings can carry is salmonellosis. Salmonella bacteria can be present in the intestines of starlings, and their feces can contain high levels of the bacteria. This poses a risk to humans and animals, as contact with contaminated surfaces or consumption of contaminated food or water can lead to infection. Salmonellosis can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and fever in humans, and can be especially dangerous for young children, the elderly, or individuals with weakened immune systems.

In addition to viral and bacterial diseases, starlings can also carry and spread fungal infections. One example is Histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease caused by a fungus called Histoplasma capsulatum. Starlings can harbor this fungus in their droppings, and when the droppings dry and become airborne, the spores can be inhaled by humans or animals. Histoplasmosis can cause flu-like symptoms, and in severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia or even spread to other organs.

Furthermore, starlings have been implicated in the transmission of parasites such as lice, mites, and ticks. These parasites can infest starlings and then transfer to other bird species or animals, including humans. For example, bird mites, which are tiny arachnids that feed on the blood of birds, can bite humans if they come into contact with infested starlings or their nests. This can cause skin irritation, itching, and discomfort.

It is worth noting that the risk of disease transmission from starlings to humans or other animals is not constant or widespread. Factors such as the density of starling populations, the presence of other susceptible species, and the overall health of the birds can influence the likelihood of disease transmission. Nonetheless, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with starlings and take appropriate measures to minimize contact with their droppings, especially in areas where large populations are present.

To mitigate the risk of disease transmission, it is advisable to practice good hygiene, such as washing hands thoroughly after handling birds or cleaning up droppings. Measures can also be taken to discourage starlings from nesting or roosting in or around buildings, such as sealing off entry points or using deterrents. Regular cleaning and disinfection of areas where starlings are present can also help reduce the risk of disease transmission.

European starlings can carry and spread various diseases, including avian influenza, salmonellosis, histoplasmosis, and parasites. Their role as disease vectors is a significant concern, as they can potentially transmit infections to humans, birds, and other animals. Understanding the risks associated with starlings and implementing appropriate preventive measures can help minimize the potential for disease transmission.