No S**t, Climbers Face Health Risk Over Bird Droppings

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Are tower climbers at a health risk for catching a serious infection on a tower covered in bird excrement? Kathy Gill of Tower Safety & Instruction thinks so. With all the tower sites she’s been to, she’s seen her share of …stuff.

“Anyone that has been on a cell site has horror stories of birds diving at them or getting sick with the smell of bird feces,” Gill told Inside Towers. “How about when you have a nest above your worksite, and it starts to rain, and the poop starts dripping on you?”

Gill said serious health issues arise from bird droppings, feathers and debris and climbers may acquire these infectious diseases by inhaling or touching bird droppings. She said symptoms usually begin one to three weeks after exposure and usually include headache, fever, and cough. A “flu-like” syndrome of nausea/vomiting, joint aches, and muscle aches is also common, Gill said. However, severe infection may develop into pneumonia that requires hospitalization.  

The diseases include:

  • Histoplasmosis is a respiratory disease that may be fatal. It results from a fungus growing in dried bird droppings. Signs include Fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, dry cough, chest discomfort.
  • Candidiasis is a yeast or fungus infection spread by pigeons. The disease affects the skin, the mouth, the respiratory system, the intestines and the urogenital tract.
  • Cryptococcosis is caused by yeast found in the intestinal tract of pigeons and starlings. The illness often begins as a pulmonary disease and may later affect the central nervous system. 
  • St. Louis Encephalitis is an inflammation of the nervous system, usually causes drowsiness, headaches and fever. It may even result in paralysis, coma or death. The disease is spread by mosquitoes that have fed on infected house sparrow, pigeons and house finches carrying the Group B virus responsible for St. Louis encephalitis.
  • E.coli can be caused when birds peck on cow manure, the E. coli go through the birds and the bird droppings can land on or in a food or water supply.
  • Salmonellosis appears as food poisoning and can be traced to pigeons, starlings, and sparrows.
  • Let’s not forget the over 50 types of parasites that crawl out of nests and infest or bite humans: (Bed Bugs, Chicken Mites, Yellow Mealworms, Mosquitos (West Nile Virus)).

So what’s the cure besides climbing with gloves, goggles and a mask? 

Gill, with her company headquartered in Phoenix, said Eastern Arizona Exterminating  is installing a new technology throughout Arizona called Optical Gel™ by Bird Barrier.  This gel can deter birds up to four years and Gill said utility companies have begun using this innovative gel due to the expense birds were causing to expensive equipment and safety concerns. The Optical Gel™ dishes are of a citrus/peppermint smell to humans and environmentally friendly and a deterrent for all birds.  

“It would be extremely easy for tower climbers to install these small dishes on towers and keep their risk of catching a bird disease low like a climber friend of mine did and spend 10 days in the hospital,” Gill said. “There are numerous posts on social media by tower climbers having to hang “fake” birds off towers to distract other wildlife, getting sick with the feces smell, and contracting an infectious disease.”

Note: OSHA does not have a standard specific to the hazard of psittacosis. However, a number of OSHA and CDC websites offer some good industrial hygiene practice with the links below:

By Jim Fryer, Managing Editor, Inside Towers

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