What is psittacosis?
Psittacosis (also known as parrot fever and ornithosis) is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydophila psittaci that people get from birds. Infection with C. psittaci is most commonly found in psittacine (parrot-type) birds, such as cockatiels, parakeets, cockatoos, macaws, and other parrots. Other birds, such as turkeys, chickens, doves, pigeons, finches, sea birds, and birds of prey can also be infected.
How is psittacosis spread?
People can become infected when they breathe in the dust from dried bird droppings or nasal secretions. Contaminated dust can be stirred into the air from feathers and litter in birdcages. Other ways of exposure include mouth-to-beak contact or handling infected birds. Even brief exposures to infected birds or bird waste can lead to illness. The bacteria can remain infectious for over a month if protected by organic material such as litter or feces.
Psittacosis most commonly affects people who work in pet stores, aviaries, poultry farms, slaughterhouses, and other places where contact with bird feces and dander is common. Person-to-person spread is thought to be very rare.
How can I prevent the spread of psittacosis?
- One of the best ways you can protect yourself from getting sick is to thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap after you touch birds or their droppings
- Pet bird cages, food bowls, and water bowls should be cleaned daily so that the droppings don't collect, dry out, and become airborne. Dirty bowls should be emptied, cleaned with soap and water, rinsed, placed in a disinfectant solution, and rinsed again before reuse. Many disinfectants are respiratory irritants for both people and birds and should be used in a well-ventilated area. Avoid mixing disinfectants with other products.
- If you have multiple birds and cages, position the cages in a way to prevent the transfer of fecal matter, feathers, food, and other materials from one cage to another. Don't stack cages. Use solid-sided cages or barriers if cages are next to each other. The bottom of the cage should be made of a wire mesh. Substrate/litter that won't produce dust (newspapers) should be placed underneath the mesh.
- Avoid purchasing or selling birds that appear sick.
- Avoid mixing birds from multiple sources all at once. Keep newly acquired birds separate from other birds for 2-4 weeks.
- If you have to leave your bird at an avian friendly boarding facility be sure it maintains acceptable standards and tests boarded birds for avian chlamydiosis.
- Birds with signs of avian chlamydiosis should be isolated in a separate cage and air space away from other birds and non-caretakers, and examined by a veterinarian.
- When cleaning cages or handling potentially infected birds, caretakers should wear protective clothing, which includes gloves, eyewear, a disposable surgical cap, and a fitted respirator with N95 or higher rating (surgical masks may not be effective).
What are the symptoms of psittacosis?
People - Symptoms of psittacosis usually begin 5 to 14 days after exposure, but longer periods have been reported. Symptoms often include sudden fever, chills, headache, general discomfort, and muscle pain. A dry cough usually occurs and can be followed by shortness of breath and pneumonia. More severe illness can affect pregnant women and the elderly. Contact your health care provider if you develop these symptoms and have been near birds.
Birds - When birds are infected with C. psittaci, it is called avian chlamydiosis. Symptoms in birds include tiredness, inactivity, poor appetite, weight loss, and ruffled feathers. They may have eye and nasal discharge, and diarrhea. Severely affected birds may lose their appetite and produce sparse greenish to white and watery droppings, followed by weight loss, dehydration, and death. Seemingly healthy birds can also carry and shed the bacteria, particularly when they are stressed. If your bird appears ill, contact your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
What is the treatment for psittacosis?
Psittacosis is diagnosed in people by testing blood or respiratory secretions. Psittacosis can be treated with 2-3 weeks of antibiotics.
What are the state rules to prevent the spread of psittacosis?
WAC 246-100-201 describes requirements for animal vendors. A vendor selling or transferring ownership of a psittacine bird must provide information about psittacosis and avian chlamydiosis to the buyer or recipient. The rule also explains the restrictions on bringing psittacine birds into the state that may have avian chlamydiosis and the local health officer's role in controlling the spread of disease.
- Birds Kept as Pets, CDC
- Animal Vendor Written Notifications and Signs for Customers
- Compendium of Measures to Control Chlamydia psittaci Infection Among Humans (Psittacosis) and Pet Birds (Avian Chlamydiosis) (PDF)
- Psittacosis and Avian Chlamydiosis Checklist for Owners of Infected Birds (PDF)