Seagulls: Feathered health hazards

|  September 25, 2015
seagull (PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/BRIANLASENBY)

PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/BRIANLASENBY

Seagulls conjure images of lazy days at the beach, ocean waves and family picnics. Rarely do these seemingly harmless sea birds bring to mind serious health issues and antibiotic-resistant diseases. Yet nearly 90 percent of seagull feces contain Enterococcus, which causes antibiotic-resistant infections.

Seagull droppings have been known to contaminate food and water when a diseased bird defecates into a human food or water source. In 1993, several hundred people in New York contracted a mysterious illness that was traced to seagull droppings in one of the reservoirs.

Besides direct contamination, airborne spores from drying feces in air ducts and vents can settle on exposed food and transfer disease. Several thousand cases of food poisoning (Salmonella) every year are attributed to this form of disease transmission.

When microscopic pieces of dried seagull feces become airborne and the particles containing dormant fungi and/or bacteria are inhaled by humans, it creates a breeding ground for infectious agents. Currently, there’s no known medical cure for internal fungal infections. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, several thousand people came down with an ailment referred to as “Valley Fever.” The dust and airborne debris they inhaled was filled with histoplasmosis spores and related fungal agents the earthquake stirred up.

Fecal dust or droppings that enter an open wound or cut can result in a severe blood (Sepsis) or internal infection.

Protect yourself

Proper attire and caution must be used when cleaning a bird site or installing bird control products. If a cut or injury occurs, thoroughly wash and disinfect the wound and cover with a sterile bandage to minimize risk of infection.

Because the seagull populations were in rapid decline for several years, laws were put into place classifying them as a protected species in North America. The protection has led to a proliferation. Not only do gulls find their homes in shore communities, but they populate commercial properties such as shopping centers, strip malls, retail stores, resorts, outdoor eateries, marinas, landfills and sports stadiums.

Seagulls tend to nest and roost on rooftops; under and around rooftop heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units; and on ledges, building edges, roofline ridges of residential homes and other elevated areas. But they can also nest on boats and piers, and near Dumpsters, trees, cliffs, landfills and lakes. They can be aggressive, especially if you approach a nest containing baby seagulls — the adult seagulls will attack you.

Seagulls are generally omnivores and are opportunistic feeders that will eat worms, insects, grains, fruit, rodents and items discarded by humans. Seagulls will grab shellfish with their beaks and fly up high, only to drop the shellfish from the sky so it breaks, allowing them to eat the fish inside. In fact, Bird Doctor was recently called in to inspect a casino because its engineering department feared seagulls would crack the building’s solar panels when dropping their shellfish on the rooftop.

So the next time seagulls soar above your head, keep in mind they are carriers of more than just your leftover lunch.

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