Psittacosis (Chlamydiosis, Ornithosis) is a widespread disease in both wild and pet birds, and is occasionally transmitted to humans that are in close contact with birds.
What causes psittacosis?
Psittacosis is a disease caused by infection with the intracellular organism Chlamydophila psittaci.
Who can be infected with psittacosis?
While the disease is predominantly carried by birds, cats, dogs, sheep, and humans can also become infected.
How is psittacosis transmitted?
The organism responsible for chlamydial infections is carried in bird feces and respiratory secretions. Birds become infected by inhaling the contaminated aerosols. Humans that frequently come into contact with birds are at a greater risk.
What are the signs of psittacosis in a pet bird?
Psittacosis is often difficult to diagnose – while some birds appear markedly ill, others will appear to be perfectly healthy. Indeed some birds carry a latent infection, and the disease only becomes apparent when they are stressed. Often people will bring home an apparently healthy bird from a pet shop only for it to fall sick not long after it gets home.
Here are a few symptoms to look out for:
• Bird is listless, dull, and fluffed up
• Weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Diarrhoea (yellow/green urates and loose feces) due to liver disease
• Laboured breathing (caused by air sac infection)
• Eye discharge or swelling
• Other bacterial infections
How can this disease be diagnosed?
If you suspect your bird is unwell, take it immediately to the veterinarian. Birds will try to hide signs of ill health, so they are often a lot sicker than they appear. Psittacosis is a life-threatening disease. The veterinarian can diagnose psittacosis based on the personal history, a physical exam, blood test, cloacal swab, or from a 5 day collection of faecal samples. Psittacosis can also be diagnosed from a post-mortem of birds that have died.
How can I treat my bird for psittacosis?
There are two common methods of treating psittacosis, both of which employ the antibiotic Doxycycline:
1. Injections: the bird is treated with a series of doxycycline injections over the course of 45 days
2. Oral treatment: doxycycline is added to the water supply for a minimum of 45 days
It is important to always have your pet bird retested for Chlamydophila following the end of treatment to ensure that the antibiotic course was effective.
What are the signs of psittacosis in humans?
Many people are not aware that they have contracted psittacosis as the symptoms closely resemble those of flu: headache, fever, confusion, myalgia, non-productive cough, and enlarged lymph nodes (glands). People with suppressed immune systems (HIV, immunosuppressive drug treatment) are at a higher risk of infection. If you suspect you have psittacosis, contact a doctor immediately.
How can I protect myself against psittacosis infection?
To minimize the risk of becoming infected with psittacosis, adopt strict hygiene standards when handling birds. Always wash hands with antiseptic after contact with a bird. Wearing a mask will reduce the chances of inhaling contaminated aerosols.