Please read about a condition that may affect you if you work in close contact with pigeons. It is the only real threat to us pigeon lovers. The overall message is to wear a mask and protective clothing as a preventive measure when cleaning out your loft or aviary.
WHAT IS PIGEON FANCIERS LUNG?
It is an allergic reaction which affects the air exchanging parts of the lung and causes shortness of breath, cough and feverish illness.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Sensitivity to Pigeon Protein. The commonest source is the bloom but droppings and other dust in the loft may be important.
IS IT COMMON?
It is more common than people think. World wide studies indicate that from 6% to 22% of fanciers have symptoms following exposure to pigeons. In British Pigeon Fanciers, 31% were found to be sensitised and 16% to have symptoms.
HOW DO I KNOW THAT I HAVE IT?
Breathlessness, dry cough, “flu like” feelings, headache and aching joints, sweating, exhaustion 2-6 hours after contact with pigeons. Weight loss. With high sensitivity, the reaction can occur more quickly and people can be very sick.
A blood check for reaction to pigeon protein would show raised levels.
WHAT DO RAISED BLOOD LEVELS MEAN?
a) The normal body defence systems have responded to contact with pigeon protein.
b) Everyone will tend to make antibody reaction to pigeon protein, but some people make much more than others.
c) People with high reaction levels are more likely to get chest trouble than those with low levels
d) If levels are raised, then there is a real risk of problems.
DO I HAVE TO GIVE UP MY PIGEONS IF I HAVE IT?
The answer in the main is NO, although for some people, unfortunately this is the only solution. It is entirely a personal decision and there are no hard and fast rules about it. WEAR MASK, CAP AND COAT at all times when you are in the loft to reduce the amount of bloom you breathe into the lungs.
IF I HAVE CHEST TROUBLE FOLLOWING CONTACT WITH PIGEONS WILL MY ANTIBODY LEVELS BE HIGH?
YES – Those with severe symptoms have higher levels than those with minor problems.
IS IT FATAL?
NO – if untreated however, it can cause chronic ill health and lung damage and this can eventually be fatal if neglected.
CAN I PASS IT ON TO MY FAMILY?
NO – It is not an infectious disease. (It is NOT the same thing as “Psittacosis” which is infectious )
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I THINK I HAVE IT?
Go and see your Doctor. The British Pigeon Fanciers Research Fund covers the cost of a blood test. All that is needed is to send a 10ml sample of clotted blood in a plain container to us, the details for this are on the contact page.
Your Doctor can contact Kenneth Boyd who can put him/her in touch with Dr. Boyd directly, should he/she wish to discuss any matters with him.
CAN ANYTHING BE DONE ABOUT IT?
YES -People react to the condition in different ways. Some have one or two attacks and then have no more trouble. Others have severe disease and must keep away from pigeons altogether. The acute illness can be treated by drugs.
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE – WEAR MASK, CAP AND COAT WHEN WITH YOUR BIRDS.
CAN IT BE CURED?
The only true cure is to keep away from pigeons altogether. Only a few people have to do this because the condition varies very much in its severity and most people only experience problems from time to time, which if treated, does not progress.
HOW MUCH CONTACT WITH PIGEONS DO I NEED BEFORE I AM LIKELY TO GET IT?
The answer is not known for certain but studies, so far, indicate that the occurrence of disease is related to:
- The age of the individual
- The number of birds kept
- The average weekly exposure to pigeons
- The number of years in the Fancy
- The individual’s own inborn reaction. (some are very sensitive and others are not).
IF I REDUCE CONTACT WITH PIGEONS WILL THE DISEASE PROBLEM IMPROVE?
YES -This is very important until the illness settles. Sometimes treatment is needed. Attacks can often be prevented by avoiding excessive contact with the bloom or dust e.g. by avoiding cleaning the loft personally or by wearing a mask, cap and coat.
IS PIGEON BREEDERS DISEASE MORE LIKELY?
- With racing pigeons or with show pigeons - NO
- In overcrowded lofts – YES
- In poorly ventilated lofts – YES
- With deep litter – NO
- With more than normal contact with pigeons – YES
- Study of eye signs.
- Use of eyeglass to examine pigeons.
- If many youngsters are hand reared.
- Hand and mouth feeding of squeakers.
IS THERE ANY PROBLEM RELATED TO PIGEON MANAGEMENT THAT MAKES IT MORE LIKELY TO CAUSE PIGEON LUNG?
- Separated cocks/Separated hens
- Paired cocks/Paired hens
- Pigeons on natural/Widowhood systems
- Different strains – e.g. inbred, outcross
- Short/Middle/Long Distance birds
N.B. Fanciers using the “Widowhood” system may be more at risk than those using the natural system because the loft is fully enclosed.
PEAK INCIDENCE – END OF RACING SEASON/MOULTING SEASON
IS THERE ANYTHING IN THE FEEDING OF THE PIGEONS WHICH MAKES THEM MORE LIKELY TO CAUSE A REACTION IN MAN?
WHAT MASK SHOULD I WEAR?
- All Fanciers should use a mask when cleaning out.
- Pigeon fanciers with symptoms of Pigeon Lung of any degree should use a mask, cap and coat every time they are with birds, even at Shows and Marking Stations.
- Fanciers with pigeon Lung should be very careful after an absence from the birds (e.g. after being on holiday). An increased reaction may be experienced on their return to the birds. A mask is essential.
The pigeon bloom, which is the main source of inhaled pigeon protein, is an extremely small dust particle (<5 microns). It is, therefore, important that the correct filter mask is used. Any mask used must comply with the appropriate European standard (or equivalent – in other countries)
The standard is EN149:FFP1 (S) for disposable masks and EN143:1990 for the Replaceable Filter Mask.
Please see our dedicated mask page, for detail of specific masks.