What is Psittacosis?

J.M. Willhite

Psittacosis, also known as Chlamydia psittaci or parrot disease, is a bacterial infection passed from birds to humans through direct contact with bird droppings. Treatment for this condition consists of the administration of antibiotics. There are serious complications associated with psittacosis, so individuals with suspected infection should seek immediate medical attention.

People infected with psittacosis may suffer from fever and fatigue.
People infected with psittacosis may suffer from fever and fatigue.

Caused by the Chlamydia psittaci bacteria, psittacosis is a condition rarely diagnosed in humans. Transmitted through direct contact with the fecal matter of birds, psittacosis is usually diagnosed in individuals regularly in direct contact with birds, such as veterinarians and bird owners. Other less common methods of transmission include contact with eggs, feathers, and feather dust. Commonly associated with certain species of birds such as budgerigars and parrots, it is possible for any species of bird to be a carrier of the Chlamydia psittaci bacterium, including ducks, pigeons, and hens.

Psittacosis is also known as parrot disease, as it can be passed from birds to humans, so parrot owners should be aware of it.
Psittacosis is also known as parrot disease, as it can be passed from birds to humans, so parrot owners should be aware of it.

Carrier birds may be asymptomatic, meaning they exhibit no symptoms at all. Infected birds may demonstrate a variety of symptoms, including labored breathing, bloodshot eyes, and watery fecal matter. Contact with birds that are exhibiting symptoms should be limited and precautionary measures taken to prevent infection transmission.

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Individuals who acquire parrot disease may exhibit a variety of symptoms. A persistent dry cough, headache, and muscle aches may be indicative of the presence of Chlamydia psittaci. Shortness of breath and mucus that contains blood are also common signs associated with this condition. Additional symptoms individuals with psittacosis may experience include fever and fatigue.

There are several tests that may be administered to determine whether an individual has contracted psittacosis. During an initial physical examination, the physician may listen to the individual’s lungs to determine if there are any signs of congestion or fluid buildup. Individuals may undergo testing that includes a chest X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan of the chest area, and a blood culture to check for signs of bacteria, including chlamydia.

Treatment for psittacosis consists of the administration of antibiotics to eradicate the infection. Common antibiotics utilized to treat this bacterial infection include doxycycline, tetracycline, and erythromycin. Children who contract parrot disease are usually not given tetraycycline unless they have all their permanent teeth, due to a substantiated risk to enamel development. Individuals who receive appropriate and timely treatment generally make a full recovery without complications.

There are serious risks associated with Chlamydia psittaci that may result in life-threatening conditions. Infection that progresses without treatment may lead to the development of pneumonia, which can contribute to decreased lung function and heart valve infection. Additional complications may include hepatitis and an inflammation of the brain, a condition known as encephalitis. Individuals with compromised immunity or medical conditions that weaken their immunity should avoid contact with birds that are suspected carriers of or are infected with the Chlamydia psittaci bacterium.

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