Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources

Infections Carried by Birds, Reptiles, and Amphibians


Pet birds, even if they are kept in a cage, may transmit the following diseases:

  • Cryptococcosis: a fungal disease contracted when someone inhales organisms found in bird droppings, especially from pigeons, that can cause pneumonia. People with weakened immune systems from illnesses such as HIV or cancer are at increased risk of contracting this disease and developing serious complications such as meningitis.
  • Psittacosis: also known as parrot fever, a bacterial illness that can occur from contact with infected bird feces or with the dust that accumulates in birdcages. Symptoms include coughing, high fever, and headache. It is treated with antibiotics.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Reptiles (including lizards, snakes, and turtles) and amphibians (including frogs, toads, and salamanders) place kids at risk for:

  • Salmonellosis: Reptiles and amphibians shed Salmonella in their feces. Touching the reptile's skin, cage, and other contaminated surfaces can lead to infection in people. Salmonellosis causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Young children are at risk for more serious illness, including dehydration, meningitis, and sepsis (blood infection).

Other Animals

Handling and caring for rodents — including hamsters and gerbils — as well as fish may place kids at risk for:

  • Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM): People can contract lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus by inhaling particles that come from urine, feces, or saliva from infected rodents, such as mice and hamsters. LCM can cause flu-like symptoms — fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, nausea, and vomiting — and may even lead to meningitis (an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord) and encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain). As with most viruses, there is no specific treatment, but some patients may require hospitalization. Like toxoplasmosis, LCM may be passed from infected mother to fetus.
  • Mycobacteria marinum: This infection may occur in people exposed to contaminated water in aquariums or pools. Although mycobacteria marinum infections are generally mild and limited to the skin, they can be more severe in people with HIV or with weakened immune systems.

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