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Psittacosis

Definition

Psittacosis is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci, which is found mainly in birds of the parrot family (psittacine) including parrots, parakeets, love birds, macaws, and cockatoos. The bacterium has also been found in poultry, pigeons, canaries, and sea birds.

Psittacosis is reportable to the Iowa Department of Public Health by Iowa Administrative Code 641 IAC 1.

Symptoms

Symptoms of psittacosis can take from one to four weeks to appear after exposure but usually occur within one to two weeks. Symptoms can include any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Dry cough
  • Upper or lower respiratory disease

Human disease is most often mild or moderate but can be severe, especially for untreated patients.

Causes

Psittacosis is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci which is carried in bird droppings. People become infected by breathing in bacteria from dried droppings, secretions, and dust from feathers of infected birds. Infected birds often appear healthy and can have lifelong infections. Pet birds are frequently the source of human infection. It isn’t known how long people remain contagious. The disease is not typically spread from person-to-person and usually occurs only where there is severe coughing from the disease.

Risk Factors

Pet birds, especially psittacine birds, are often the cause of infection, especially when owners clean a cage with dried droppings. Occupational exposure can also occur when workers are exposed to areas with contaminated dust during clean up, repair or demolition. Laboratory infections have occurred as well. Farms or rendering plants may be a source of exposure for workers. Many seemingly healthy birds may shed the agent when stressed by crowding or transport. Dramatic outbreaks may occur in poultry packing plant workers. Anyone exposed to the dust and droppings of infected birds is at risk for becoming infected.

Prevention

The following precautions should be observed to prevent the spread of psittacosis:

  • Obtain birds only from a licensed pet store or aviary.
  • Pet owners and animal handlers should be made aware of the dangers of household or work-related exposure to infected birds and the risk of inhalation of dried bird droppings, even from seemingly healthy birds.
  • Special care should be taken by bird owners to clean cages, etc. with the least amount of disturbance of dried droppings, feathers, and dust.
  • Birds that are bought, traded, or otherwise acquired should be raised and handled in a way that prohibits psittacosis spread.

Treatment

Psittacosis is treated with tetracycline type antibiotics. If you suspect you have been exposed, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Statistics

No cases of psittacosis have been reported in Iowa since 2005.

For more detailed information and statistics on all notifiable diseases, please see our current annual report located in the reports section of the CADE homepage.

Additional Resources

Veterinarians

(515) 242-5935  |  1(800) 362-2736  |  Submit questions online at "Contact Us"