Rebuttal to Courier Article (below)

(a) submitted by Donald Jenner, Ph.D.

In the January 23 number of Queens Courier, you published an article by someone who works for a local exterminator agency, one Elana Moriarty. It would be helpful to note the errors in this article.

Moriarty claims "Ocular histoplasmosis, a fungal infection that eats away at the eyeball is just one of over sixty diseases that birds can transfer to humans." Histoplasmosis is caused by a common soil fungus; all gardeners are exposed to this regularly (it helps their plants grow). The New York City Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene observes that "high exposure" -- more than usual cleanup activities, occurring only when very lazy people have let years of accumulation build up -- is necessary for the spores in bird droppings to infect people. Ordinary care -- hand washing after cleanup, e. g. -- is more than adequate caution.

Moriarty claims "Directly after last summer's collapse of the Minnesota Bridge, readers heard about the structural damage that droppings and their acidic nature can cause." This canard was lofted by the rather foolish Simcha Felder, from the city's 44th councilmanic district; he has acknowledged deliberately misquoting his putative source, who has denied any such claim. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and other investigators have found that the bridge collapse resulted from poor engineering and the use of inadequate truss-plates.

Moriarty claims "Still, beyond avian flu and West Nile virus, diseases from birds are often glossed over." Avian flu has yet to be transmitted to the Americas. There is limited evidence that pigeons are vulnerable to avian flu in any case; one reputable scientist observes "Pigeons do not get avian influenza and don't carry the virus." [Dr. Cornelius Kiley, DVM, Canadian Food Inspection Agency] The evidence on West Nile Virus is mixed, but the most recent data indicates that pigeons, in particular, are neither vectors in themselves nor reservoirs for this disease.

Moriarty has a litany of diseases that she trots out, presumably as reasons to employ the exterminators that employ her. Contrary to the claims of this press release, published as if real in the Queens Courier, it is good to consider the view of public health scientists:

"The New York City Department of Health has no documented cases of communicable disease transmitted from pigeons to humans." - Dr. Manuel Vargas, New York City Department of Health.

"Pigeons are not a public health hazard. Nobody in public health is losing any sleep over pigeons." - Dr. Joel McCullough, Medical Director, Environmental Health, Chicago Department of Public Health.

"[...the Arizona Department of Health Services does] not have any documented human cases of disease which have been definitively linked to outdoor pigeons or pigeon droppings. When cases of diseases are reported (and by law [certain bird related zoonoses are] reportable diseases), VBZD staff conduct complete investigations to confirm the diagnosis and identify the source of infection. 'Our case investigation data gathered so far, would suggest that pigeons are not significant as a cause of human disease in Arizona."

"We don't see pigeon-related-disease problems..." "I don't think they're seeing them anywhere..." - Bill Kottkamp, Supervisor, Vector Control, St. Louis County Health Department

In short, Moriarty seeks to scare people in to hiring her employers. Apparently there are people foolish enough to listen to such drivel, without attention to fact.

Pigeons are nice birdies. Each of them poops a bit (something like a tablespoon or so a day, from what I can observe, having cared for a few injured birds). It cleans up pretty easily (a good rainstorm does the job -- or 15 minutes with a garden hose). As fellow-urbanites, these birds are models of tolerance (other birds cohabit with pigeons in the same territory). Pigeons even like people -- they'd even be nice to Moriarty, I suspect, if she offered them peanuts (though in her case, she'd probably lace the nuts with cyanide -- or avitrol, even if it is illegal in New York City). Most New Yorkers realize this -- always have; they feed the birds, they generally think the birds are an asset and if poop is a bit inæsthetic, well, adults can deal with this.

Shame on the Queens Courier staff; get yourself a better advertiser.

(b) Claudie

I sure hope that you and your friends will write letters to the editor to refute those claims. You can use some of the info from NYC's own Board of Health here:  and all the references here: . Note the word "small" in, "Contact with pigeon droppings may pose a small health risk", and read about the possible diseases and the unlikelihood of infection.

I would also point out to the editor that the original article appears to be a blatant advertisement; clearly, the author has a vested interest in scaring the public about this non-issue.

The following article is written by an attractive woman whose face is plastered all over the page. Is this an advertisement for shampoo, skin care, tooth whitener or a dating service. No, the article is about hate and filled with misinformation and LIES. Is she a Felder/Quinn groupie? No, but she does work for a pigeon extermination company, and what happened to RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM. Did this "reporter/writer" break some code of ethics by lying in a public media? Although it is written under Opinion, this writer's opinion is worthless.

Queens Courier

Jan. 23, 2008

Pigeon poop is dangerous


Most people agree that bird droppings are an eyesore but they would be horrified to find out just how accurate the headline is. Ocular histoplasmosis, a fungal infection that eats away at the eyeball is just one of over sixty diseases that birds can transfer to humans. Their droppings are often the vehicle for transmission as they dry out, turn todust, become airborne, and are absorbed by the mucus membranes of unknowing victims.

Stories exposing the reluctance of city officials to address the issue of bird droppings often focus on the aesthetics of the issue. People note the terrible smell of accumulated waste. Casual observers recognize that the appearance of bird droppings lowers the perceived value of a property.

Directly after last summer's collapse of the Minnesota Bridge, readers heard about the structural damage that droppings and their acidic nature can cause. Still, beyond avian flu and West Nile virus, diseases from birds are often glossed over.

This leads people to believe that the issue of bird infestations, and the subsequent droppings they leavebehind, can be safely kept on the backburner. City officials realize this and feel free to ignore the problem in exchange for other items that garner more publicity.

If people realized that droppings are a carrier for potentially fatal illnesses like salmonella, E.coli, respiratory histoplasmosis (which can permanently affect the lungs), Cryptococcosis, or meningitis to name a few, they would have more ammunition when demanding the control of birds and their waste.

This is not just a matter of image but of public health. While some of these diseases are unfamiliar and rare, they are a real concern - especially for individuals who work in close proximity to an accumulation of bird feces. Any of the aforementioned diseases leave young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, especially vulnerable.

Bird-related diseases are in no way limited to only this specific segment of the population; the general population also needs and deserves to be protected. Realizing this, the CDC published the following safeguards for dealing with histoplasmosis:

"Areas known or suspected of being contaminated by H. capsulatum, such as bird roosts, attics, or even entire buildings that contain accumulations of bat or bird manure, should be posted with signs warning of the health risk. -- In some situations, a fence may be needed to be built around a property or locks put on attic doors to prevent unsuspecting or unprotected individuals from entering."

The most frustrating aspect of unresolved bird infestations is that there are so many available solutions. Strategies include visual scares (like balloons with holographic eyes that follow birds wherever they fly), physical barriers (spikes or netting), taste deterrents, sonic machines (that convince birds an area is unsafe using distress call recordings), etc. Often, those in charge of a bird control program will not look into the long-term viability of a plan. They become discouraged by the fact that, when using just one method, birds become accustomed to it and return.

It is important to consider the idea of synergy when organizing a long-term approach. When two or more strategies are used together, success rates are much higher than each garners individually. This is especially important to remember when dealing with an environment that rewards the birds - like people who feed them.

The New York Transit Authority was just recently ordered to pay over $6 million to a man who suffered serious injuries after slipping on bird droppings and falling on a flight of subway stairs in the Bronx. A teacher won $1.2 million in a settlement with a Florida school district after contracting Cryptococcosis from accumulated droppings (South Florida Sentinel, March 29, 2001). It is clear that everyone benefits from a timely response to a bird infestation.

The public certainly does not want their neighbors to suffer serious injuries or illness and those in positions of power do not want to pay large amounts of money in the event that they are held responsible for such events.

While pigeons have become a part of most urban landscapes, we can use what we have learned over the years to direct the populations to areas where they will have less human interaction and, therefore, be less of a risk.

Elana Moriarty is a media correspondent for Bird-X, Inc. - the experts in "green" bird pest control for over 40 years. Visit or call 800-662-5021 for more information.

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