Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Psittacosis

(Parrot Fever; Ornithosis)

Definition

Psittacosis is an infection. It is passed to humans from birds. It may cause flu-like symptoms.

Bacteria as Seen Through Microscope
Bacteria

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Causes  ^

Psittacosis is caused by a specific bacteria. The bacteria is usually passed to people from a sick bird. It may be inhaled through the dust of dried bird droppings from the sick bird. It can also pass when a person touches his or her mouth to the beak of an infected bird.

The bacteria can pass from one person to another. This is rare.

Risk Factors  ^

Contact with a pet bird increases the risk of psittacosis. A sick bird may have feather loss and runny eyes. There may also be a change in eating habits and diarrhea. Birds that pass infection may also appear well.

Certain occupations increase the risk of this infection including:

  • Veterinarian
  • Zoo worker
  • Laboratory worker
  • Farmer
  • Poultry plant worker

Birds most often associated with psittacosis infection in people include:

  • Parrots
  • Macaws
  • Cockatiels
  • Parakeets
  • Turkeys and other poultry
  • Pigeons

Symptoms  ^

Psittacosis may cause:

  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Chest pain
  • Rash

Diagnosis  ^

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. The doctor may ask if you have been around animals like birds. A physical exam will be done.

A blood test can confirm the diagnosis. Other body fluids, such as sputum, may be tested. A chest x-ray may be done to check your lungs.

Treatment  ^

Psittacosis is treated with antibiotics.

Sometimes severe breathing problems may occur. This is rare but may require a stay in the hospital. Oxygen will make breathing easier. IV antibiotics will also be given. It will speed delivery of medicine.

Prevention  ^

To help reduce your chances of psittacosis:

  • Keep your mouth away from a bird’s beak.
  • Buy pet birds from a dealer with an exotic bird permit.
  • If you have two or more birds, keep their cages apart.
  • Keep new birds away from other birds for 4-6 weeks.
  • Clean bird cages, food bowls, and water bowls every day. Disinfect them every week. Use bleach or rubbing alcohol.
  • Avoid birds that appear to be sick.
  • If your bird appears to be sick, take it to a vet right away.
  • Take precaution if you care for a sick bird. Wear a mask and protective clothing. This includes gloves and eye wear.
RESOURCES:

AVMA—American Veterinary Medicine Association
https://www.avma.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
https://www.cdc.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association
https://www.canadianveterinarians.net

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Animal contact compendium 2017. National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians website. Available at: http://www.nasphv.org/Documents/AnimalContactCompendium2017.pdf. Accessed December 11, 2017.

Eidson M. Psittacosis/avian chlamydiosis. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002;221(12):1710-1712.

Psittacosis. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website. Available at: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/psittacosis.html. Updated December 11, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017.

Psittacosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/atypical/psittacosis.html. Updated June 29, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017.

Stewardson AJ, Grayson ML. Psittacosis. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2010;24(1):7-25.

Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 8/22/2018