Advice from the British Pigeon Fanciers Medical Research Team on Pigeon Lung (Extrinsic Allergic Alveolitis)
In the same way as some pet owners are allergic to their pets, e.g. cats, dogs or horses, some pigeon owners are allergic to their pigeons. The allergic reaction affects the small air exchanging sacs in the lung (alveoli) and causes shortness of breath, cough and feverish illness.
Symptoms – Breathlessness, dry cough, flu-like feelings, headache and aching joints, sweating and exhaustion, 2-6 hours after contact with the pigeons. Weight loss. With high sensitivity, the reaction can occur more quickly.
Diagnosis – The blood test by the BPFMRT is a screening test specifically for pigeon reaction levels, and is a measure of the degree of pigeon reaction in the blood. If the levels are high and the symptoms are present, lung scans and lung function tests are necessary to leave no doubt as to the diagnosis. Simple chest x-rays are often clear. We still find cases of pigeon fanciers who have been diagnosed as having Pigeon Lung on the grounds that they have chest symptoms and keep pigeons. A negative result on the screening test alerts their doctor to the fact that there is some other cause for their chest symptoms, not pigeons.
Prevention – All fanciers with any degree of sensitivity or reaction to the pigeons should wear a cap, mask and loft coat when in contact with the birds, especially when cleaning out the loft, and very much so especially when deep litter systems are being renewed annually. When not in use the cap, mask and coat should be stored away from the pigeon loft. Many sensitized fanciers forget to wear the mask when at the pigeon club on marking nights, at pigeon shows, and when transporting the pigeons by car. Warm pigeon dust appears to be more potent in causing a reaction. Beware of using old mouldy straw from a bale from last year in the nest boxes; it is also a hazard to those with Pigeon Lung, as it causes a similar condition called Farmer’s Lung.
Mask advice – The proper mask is vital to prevent a reaction. The simple gauze or DIY mask is not suitable. Pigeon bloom is an extremely small particle < 5 microns. It is important that the correct mask is used. The dramatic decline in the numbers of severe cases of Pigeon Lung seen by us is directly due to the foresight and initiative of the RPRA in making available their BHW Puramask. It is cheap, effective, easily accessible and disposable, and in our opinion has kept many, many pigeon fanciers in the sport. Our experience is that it works in 90% of fanciers. The remaining 10% require a more sophisticated and expensive mask. Any masks 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.
Cautionary Note – Fanciers with any degree of Pigeon Lung should be careful after an absence from the birds (e.g. on return from holiday). An increased reaction may be experienced on their return to the pigeons. Wearing a mask is essential.
For more extensive info and advice view our website on www.pigeon-lung.co.uk