Chlamydia psittaci and C. avium in feral pigeon (Columba livia domestica) droppings in two cities in the Netherlands

Burt, Sara A.; Röring, Romy E.; Heijne, Marloes


Background: Feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica) live and breed in many city centres and contact with their droppings can be a hazard for human health if the birds carry Chlamydia psittaci. Objective: The aim of this study was to establish whether pigeon droppings in two Dutch cities (Utrecht and Haarlem) contain C. psittaci and/or C. avium, which could be a potential hazard for transmission to humans. Methods: In May 2017 seven feral pigeon ‘hot spots’ with between 5 and 40+ pigeons present were identified in two cities by visual observations over two days. During the following ten days fresh droppings were collected at these hot spots and the samples were pooled per three droppings to achieve 40–41 samples per city. Samples were analysed for Chlamydia DNA with a broad range 23S Chlamydiaceae Real-Time PCR and positive samples were tested with a specific C. psittaci and C. avium Real-Time PCR. Positive C. psittaci samples were genotyped. Results: C. psittaci and C. avium were detected in both cities. For C. psittaci the prevalences in Utrecht and Haarlem were 2.4% and 7.5%, respectively; for C. avium 36.6% and 20.0%, respectively. One sample contained both species. All C. psittaci samples belonged to genotype B. Conclusion: C. psittaci and C. avium are present in feral pigeon droppings in Utrecht and Haarlem. Human contact with droppings from infected pigeons or inhalation of dust from dried droppings represent a potential hazard to public health.