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Psittacosis

Psittacosis is a reportable disease in Oklahoma. Psittacosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydia psittaci, which can cause illness in both birds and humans. Psittacosis is most commonly identified in birds in the parrot family (psittacine birds), such as parakeets, cockatiels, parrots, and macaws, but can also occur in poultry, pigeons, and waterfowl. Birds infected with Chlamydia psittaci may exhibit tiredness, loss of appetite, ruffled feathers, weight loss, difficulty breathing, greenish-colored droppings, or discharge from the eyes and nose.

In humans, the disease ranges from showing no symptoms to systemic illness with severe pneumonia. The illness typically starts with an onset of fever, chills, headache, malaise, and muscle aches. A mild cough and sore throat often develop following these symptoms. Although C. psittaci infection in humans is normally mild, it can be more severe for persons who are elderly or have a condition that suppresses their immune system. A person can reacquire the disease after a prior infection. The symptoms generally appear about ten days after exposure, but can appear as early as one week or as long as four weeks after exposure.

Occasionally, birds may die from psittacosis.  Psittacosis in humans is typically characterized by general respiratory symptoms.

People get psittacosis primarily by breathing in contaminated dust from bird droppings or feathers, and by close contact with sick birds that are shedding the organism. Birds tend to shed the organism under conditions of stress such as shipping and crowding. For this reason, the disease is most often seen in birds that have been recently imported, housed in pet shops, or boarded with other birds. Birds do not have to show symptoms of disease in order to spread the infection to other birds or their handlers. Human-to-human spread is extremely rare. Waste material in the birdcage may remain infectious for weeks and birds may shed the bacteria for weeks or months.

Anyone can get psittacosis if he or she has exposure to infected birds or the environment where the infected birds have been. Since birds in the parrot family spread this disease, it is occasionally found in pet store workers and people who have purchased an infected bird. It may also be found in farmers and slaughterhouse workers who process turkeys or ducks.

How to prevent exposure to psittacosis?

  • Buy birds from reputable suppliers who screen for the presence of psittacosis.
  • If birds are kept as pets, clean the cage often so that fecal material does not accumulate, dry up and become airborne. A cleaning solution prepared by adding two and one half tablespoons of household bleach to one gallon of water will kill the bacteria.  This solution must be used on the day it is mixed, then discarded.  Allow all cage surfaces, including perches and bowls, to thoroughly dry before returning bird to the clean cage.

Psittacosis Fact Sheets and Information:

Psittacosis Fact Sheet (38k.pdf)

External Psittacosis Resources:

2010 Psittacosis Compendium Control Measures (CDC)
Psittacosis (CDC)

Psittacosis (Medline)
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Psittacosis
 

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