Bird Rx: What Is Psittacosis?

Posted by TF Oren

Psittacosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila psittaci.

Also known as parrot fever, or ornithosis, psittacosis is a zoonotic infectious disease, meaning that is a disease carried by animals and communicable to humans. It affects many different species, including but not limited to: birds (including wild birds and pet birds), cats, goats, sheep, pigs, cows, and humans.

Birds transmit the disease when they inhale dust from infected droppings, droplets of respiratory secretions, feather dust from infected birds, and in select cases, the infection is transmitted from hen to egg. Birds that live in, or are kept in close quarters, such as pet stores, quarantine centers, or boarding facilities are at greatest risk.

Beautiful Bird, Love Bird

Although it's called parrot fever, nearly anything with feathers is at risk, including ducks, gulls, pigeons, and chickens, among others. Stress exacerbates the infection, as carriers tend to shed more of the organism when under stress.

In birds, symptoms include discharge from the eyes, swollen eyes, respiratory distress, lethargy, lack of appetite, and watery green droppings. Because a number of other diseases share these same symptoms, pathology testing by an avian vet is the best way determine whether or not your bird is infected. Psittacosis is also tricky to diagnose because although infected birds will produce infected droppings and secretions, the infection is sometimes subclinical, so birds with the disease might not show symptoms.

If you have a pet bird or birds, and plan to bring a new bird into your household, it's important you take the proper preventive measures against spreading psittacosis. Any new bird you plan to introduce should first be examined by an avian vet, and ideally, isolated for a number of weeks prior to entering your household.

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Birds aren't the only ones at risk of contracting and spreading psittacosis, though. You're at risk of contracting it, too. If you've been exposed to birds, whether they're wild or domestic, and you develop a lingering case of the flu (symptoms include: fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, muscle and joint pain, diarrhea, fatigue, cough, and fatigue), you need to see a doctor.

In order to avoid contracting the infection from pet birds, a few simple measures will go a long way toward prevention. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling birds or cleaning their cages, and have your veterinarian examine any bird that's showing symptoms of the illness.

The good news is, psittacosis is rare, and it is curable with antibiotics. Using good hygiene practices when you care for your birds, and taking proper precautionary measures when introducing a new bird to the household, along with regular, high quality veterinary care, are the best ways to prevent contraction and transmission.

Has your bird ever suffered from psittacosis? Tell us in the comments below. 

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Bird Rx: What Is Psittacosis?