Anyone who owns a bird or birds, or who raises chickens, should be aware of a viral disease called Histoplasmosis that can be transmitted through bird droppings. It is also known as Darling's Disease. The symptoms vary greatly, but it primarily affects the lungs.
My husband and I raised parakeets and zebra finches when we were first married. I thought I was keeping their area entirely clean by cleaning their cages daily and washing them down once a week. That was apparently not enough. If you have a birds, each time you change the paper in their cage, you should wipe the cage down with a mild bleach solution, too. Also, please don't use those layered cage liners where you just remove the top layer each day. This is actually something that will aid in the growth of the fungus.
When our son was about five years old, he began having respiratory symptoms - coughing, fever, headaches - and at first thought he had a cold or allergies. These symptoms persisted for several months and we only found out that he had histoplasmosis because his regular pediatrician was not in the office one day when we took him in. The replacement doctor had lived and worked in South American and diagnosed histoplasmosis immediately. He was put on antiviral medication and those symptoms did go away eventually.
It should be noted that this histoplasmosis virus never goes away. Just as you could possibly get shingles from the chicken pox virus because it lies dormant in your system; the histoplasmosis virus can return at any time, although it is not as likely to return in any symptomatic form (such as the shingles virus).
This all happened to us eleven years ago. Jacob has remained symptom free and does not have any health problems resulting from it.
However, after having on-going vision problems, I recently found out (eleven years later), that I have had ocular histoplasmosis syndrome for a number of years. I have had scar tissue on and around my optic nerves in both eyes which have caused a blind spot in my left eye and other problems like blurred vision. This is something that I have had but it was not diagnosed as ocular histoplasmosis syndrome until just recently. There is nothing that can be done about it. It cannot be cured. It may or may not get worse depending on the virus - it may lie dormant for the rest of my life or it may return later.
I want to let everyone know about this uncommon disease. Here are some particulars that might be of interest to anyone who raises birds or has pet birds:
What is histoplasmosis?
Histoplasmosis is a disease caused by the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum. Its symptoms vary greatly, but the disease primarily affect the lungs. Occasionally, other organs are affected. This form of the disease is called disseminated histoplasmosis, and it can be fatal if untreated.
Yes. Positive histoplasmin skin tests occur in as many as 80% of the people living in areas where H. capsulatum is common, such as the eastern and central United States. Infants, young children, and older persons, in particular those with chronic lung disease are at increased risk for severe disease. Disseminated disease is more frequently seen in people with cancer, AIDS or other forms of immunosuppression.
H. capsulatum grows in soil and material contaminated with bat or bird droppings. Spores become airborne when contaminated soil is disturbed. Breathing the spores causes infection. The disease is not transmitted from an infected person to someone else.
Most infected persons have no apparent ill effects. The acute respiratory disease is characterized by respiratory symptoms, a general ill feeling, fever, chest pains, and a dry or nonproductive cough. Distinct patterns may be seen on a chest x-ray. Chronic lung disease resembles tuberculosis and can worsen over months or years. The disseminated form is fatal unless treated.
If symptoms occur, they will start within 3 to 17 days after exposure; the average is 10 days.
Yes. Antifungal medications are used to treat severe cases of acute histoplasmosis and all cases of chronic and disseminated disease. Mild disease usually resolves without treatment. Past infection results in partial protection against ill effects if reinfected.