Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Hand FAQ

Question:

I was at a friend's house yesterday helping her cut her parrot's toenails. One of us (me) holds the bird in a towel while the other one (my friend) does the nail trimming. Unfortunately, the bird got her head out of the towel and bit me a good one. Broke the skin but didn't break the bone or take the finger off. I understand now that could happen! My main concern now is whether or not I could get rabies from a parrot bite. What can you tell me?

Answer:

Like all domestic animals, birds come with a variety of interesting problems. Besides the mess that they can make and parasites they carry, as you have recently found out -- they also bite! And those beaks are designed for crushing seeds and berries. So they can do some serious damage to those they bite. Infection can develop if the skin is broken because birds carry many of the common bacteria we are exposed to in our environment such as E. coli, Samonella, and Staphylococcus. But they also can transmit to humans (through bites and scratches) Lactobacillus, Pasturella multocida, and Proteus. And those bites can be strong enough to break a finger bone or even amputate a finger! Bird owners, family members, and helpful friends don't have to worry about getting rabies from a bird bite -- domestic birds don't carry rabies. And except for training the bird not to bite (good luck with that!), no further action (e.g., quarantine) is suggested after a bite. Infection is a major concern after a bird bite severe enough to cut the skin open. All bites that break the skin should be irrigated and cleaned (debridement) in a hospital or clinic setting; more severe injuries may require surgical debridement. Antibiotics should be prescribed when the wound is severe enough to warrant them. A broad spectrum antibiotic is advised to cover many different types of organisms. Follow-up lab work to evaluate blood for systemic infection is also recommended; how long after the injury follow-up should continue is unknown. More specific antibiotics can be prescribed if lab testing shows the presence of a particular bacteria or if patients do not respond to the first antibiotic. If the skin was broken and you haven't been evaluated and treated for this problem, we advise medical follow-up with your family physician. Carissa L. Meyer, MD, and Joshua M. Abzug, MD. Domestic Bird Bites. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. September 2012. Vol. 37A. No. 9. Pp. 1925-1928.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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