Oscar was an Internet sensation [in Spring 2008], appearing in a video that spread around the world like, well, a virus. I had the privilege of visiting Oscar one afternoon with Pamela Quirin, my friend who volunteers at the Broward County Humane Society. Oscar, a female Moluccan cockatoo, resides at the Broward County Humane Society (BCHS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and lives with psittacine beak & feather disease (PBFD). Employees at BCHS originally didn’t give her more than six months to live when she first came to them. That was more than 12 years ago. Oscar came to BCHS when she was turned over to the Broward County Wildlife Care Center after a rescue confiscation in 1996.
According to Patricia Cooprider, a Vet Tech for the BCHS, “She was found living in a barbeque grill.” Oscar is the toast of BCHS. She has three heat lamps, a playgym, a small bath bowl and toys that are regularly rotated. She resides in the hub of the staff’s side of the building near the cattery and examination rooms. She greets and playfully interacts with everyone who works there until her bedtime, when she is placed in her covered cage and rolled into a quiet, warm office.
Oscar’s featherless body is unsettling at first. But her charm and quirky “Mick Jagger Strut” (normal for a cockatoo but odd looking when performed by a bird with no feathers) wins you over. Oscar and I began talking, which quickly escalated into Oscar conducting a “scream fest” until she was quietly told she was “scaring the kitties” and she settled down.
Due to Oscar’s PBFD status, I dressed in a white “clean suit.” My moon suit didn’t seem to bother Oscar at all. Rather, she appeared to be fascinated, following me around on her cage and repeatedly offering her foot for a Step up. I was captivated by this active, enthusiastic and bright- eyed little girl. She is a charismatic, busy bird who is very well loved by all of her friends. PBFD has not prevented Oscar from enjoying her life at all.
Bio-Security To Protect The Flock
In preparing for my visit to Oscar, I followed protocol recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for health care workers exposed to avian influenza, as well as protective methods recommended the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). I had professional help designing my biosecurity protocol from Dr. Robert Schachner DVM, of Hollywood, Florida, who provided me with Nolvasan™ (chlorhexidine diacetate), and I consulted with Dr. Sam Backos of Deerfield Beach, Florida. With their assistance, the suggestions of Phoenix Landing Volunteers, and Shari Mirojnick, a veteran of California’s Exotic Newcastle Disease outbreak and a vet tech, I came up with a bio-security regimen I termed, “Parker’s Protocol,” named after Parker, one of my African greys. With their guidance, I felt that these measures would be sufficient in protecting my mature greys from exposure; not only to PBFD but from secondary conditions Oscar may have developed. This included parking at least 50 feet away from the building where Oscar lives, and wearing disposable non- breathable “clean suits” with attached hoods and booties used in fiberglass installation. Pamela and I stressed not exposing our shoes to possible contamination.
We changed into the “clean suits” before entering the building and covered the interior of Pamela’s automobile with plastic. After leaving, we sprayed down our suits with a Nolvasan solution, followed by a diluted-bleach solution. We removed them and placed them in a plastic, sealed garbage bag, which was then disposed of. We then sprayed our clothes with Nolvasan followed by the bleach solution and donned two new clean suits to avoid contaminating Pamela’s car. Once we reached Pamela’s home (she has no birds), she carefully removed the plastic from the car’s interior, and we removed our second set of clean suits, which we bagged and threw out along with our clothing and footwear.
Decontamination included long, hot, thorough showers, three shampoos, using a nail brush under our fingernails and scrubbing the bottoms of our feet with a brush. We flushed our eyes, noses and ears with flushing solution, and brushed our teeth followed by a hydrogen-peroxide rinse. I swabbed my face and neck with alcohol, drove home in my uncontaminated car, and took yet another shower at a neighbor’s house before entering my home. The decontamination process was lengthy and strenuous.
Was the biosecurity practice Pam and I adhered to entirely necessary? Probably not. It was designed more for avoiding viral contact and removing any possible shedding of the viral particulate matter to ourselves rather than to eradicate it, as PBFD is a rather durable and naturally resistant virus. “Parker’s Protocol” may be extreme, but it provided me with the security in knowing I had done all I could to prevent PBFD from entering my home.