[Tweeters] A disease from old birdhouses??

Guttman,Burt GuttmanB at evergreen.edu
Thu Mar 7 14:48:24 PST 2013


Tweeters folks,
A friend who does birding as well as many other environmental things has posed a fascinating question, which I'm passing on. He makes nice birdhouses, and each year, in February, he cleans out about 12-15 of them, getting them ready for the summer birds. This has been going on for perhaps 35 years. But also, for as long as he can remember, he has come down with what he calls "walking pneumonia" in February. He has never before connected the disease with the birdhouses, because he always had other possible causes, but now he raises the question: Could he be catching some kind of bug (I might guess an infectious fungus) from the old birdhouses?

Here are the symptoms:
1) It always starts with a tiny, scratchy sore point far down the back of my throat. I clear my throat incessantly, the soreness increases. Once this starts, it always continues to the next symptoms.
2) The soreness spreads and starts to "crawl" down my throat, feeling like a burning, stabbing, deepening, enlarging open wound. The spread stops after about 5 days, then starts to fade. The "territory" occupied by the sore throat shrinks drastically, however the intensity of pain increases. At its worst, about a week after it has stopped spreading, it forms a hard, deeply painful knot in my throat making swallowing painful. It "feels" about the size of a ping pong ball. The sore throat persist, diminishing in pain, throughout the whole illness.
3) I start coughing deeply and often violently, bringing up a lot of white sputum. Maybe one-two coughing fits per day. This goes on for the next 3-4 weeks.
4) This develops in parallel with sneezing, runny nose and weeping eyes, sometimes once per day, sometimes not occurring on some days.
5) Immense fatigue, depression, disinterest in even the most trivial activities -- answering the telephone, eg. Rest doesn't help. Staying in bed for days doesn't diminish fatigue, exhaustion.
6) During the latest bout (started Feb 20, 2013) I actually had a depressed body temperature -- 97.3 degrees.
7) After 3-6 weeks, one wakes up one day & realizes it's gone. There is seldom a moment when you realize that you're "starting to feel better." A week or two of recovery of physical fitness is then possible.

Here are some peculiarities.
1) Doctors don't seem to recognize it. They do know that it is NOT flu, pertussis, asthma, cold, TB, pneumonia, & bronchitis.
2) My wife almost never contracts it, even though she is exposed to me for weeks. (I do try to maintain distance from her but living in the same house makes that less than total.)
3) Vaccination never prevents it. I have been vaccinated against flu, pertussis, and pneumonia in particular, all in 2012 and many other times over the years.
4) Contracting it doesn't give me immunity. During some years I have caught a second or third case, usually in late spring/early summer.
5) It always starts when I feel like I'm in top physical fitness and health.

Could this be a rare "something" contracted from contact with old bird nests? The nests I handle are those of violet green & tree swallows, with an occasional chickadee nest. In February, the swallow nests are usually dry, made of coarse straw with chicken feathers, and loaded with dry droppings. I try to stay upwind of the nest, wear gloves, and remove it from the birdhouse with a scraping tool, however a mass of dry powder usually emerges and I may well inhale some. The chickadee nests are very dry, clean, tidy masses of dried moss.

Does this ring a bell with anyone?

Burt Guttman
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, WA 98505 guttmanb at evergreen.edu <mailto:guttmanb at evergreen.edu>
Home: 7334 Holmes Island Road S. E., Olympia, 98503



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