Your Health

Psittacosis

Definition

Psittacosis is an infection that is passed to humans from birds. It may cause a variety of flu-like symptoms.

Bacteria as Seen Through Microscope
Bacteria
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Causes

Psittacosis is caused by a specific bacteria. The bacteria is passed from a sick bird. People may come in contact with the bacteria when they inhale the dust of dried bird droppings from the sick birds. The bacteria can also pass when a person touches his or her mouth to the beak of an infected bird. Even minor contact with sick birds can lead to psittacosis. The bacteria can pass from one person to another, but it is rare.

Risk Factors

Handling a pet bird increases the risk of psittacosis. Some infected birds have symptoms, such as losing feathers, runny eyes, a change in eating habits, and diarrhea. Other birds may appear well, but can still spread the infection to humans.

Certain occupations also increase the risk of this infection including:

  • Veterinarian
  • Zoo worker
  • Laboratory worker
  • Farmer
  • Poultry plant worker

Birds most often associated with psittacosis infection in people, include:

  • Parrots
  • Macaws
  • Cockatiels
  • Parakeets
  • Turkeys
  • Pigeons

Symptoms

Psittacosis may cause:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Chest pain
  • Rash

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. To look for signs of infection, your doctor may order:

Treatment

Psittacosis is treated with antibiotics.

Some infection can cause severe breathing problems that will require hospitalization. Oxygen will be given to help your breathing. IV antibiotics will also be given to help speed medication throughout the body.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting psittacosis:

  • Keep your mouth away from a bird’s beak.
  • Buy pet birds from a dealer with an exotic bird permit.
  • If you have two or more birds, keep their cages apart.
  • Keep new birds away from other birds for 4-6 weeks.
  • Clean bird cages, food bowls, and water bowls every day. Disinfect them every week with bleach or rubbing alcohol.
  • Avoid birds that appear to be sick.
  • If your bird appears to be sick, take it to a veterinarian right away.
  • If you care for an infected bird, wear a mask and protective clothing, including gloves, eye wear, and a disposable surgical cap. You should also wear a properly fitted respirator with an N95 or higher rating.

Revision Information

  • American Veterinary Medicine Association

    http://www.avma.org

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    http://www.cdc.gov

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • Compendium of measures to control Chlamydia psittaci infection among humans (psittacosis) and pet birds (avian chlamydiosis), 2000. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2000;49(RR-8):3-17.

  • Eidson M. Psittacosis/avian chlamydiosis. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002;221(12):1710-1712.

  • Orinthosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated November 30, 2009. Accessed September 20, 2013.

  • Psittacosis. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website. Available at: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/psittacosis.html . Updated February 2, 2009. Accessed September 20, 2013.

  • Psittacosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/psittacosis%5Ft.htm . Updated January 13, 2009. Accessed September 20, 2013.

  • Stewardson AJ, Grayson ML. Psittacosis. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2010;24(1):7-25.