All You Need to Know About Your Bird
We feel the general public needs to be cognizant of the contagious disease parrots sometimes carry, and which can be transmitted to humans. The people most susceptible are those with any type of suppressed immune system, for example HIV. Small children are also easily infected, as are the elderly.
Parrot fever is a rare, infectious disease that can cause pneumonia in humans. It is transmitted from pet birds or from poultry, and is caused by chlamydia; a type of intracellular parasite — closely related to bacteria. This condition is also known as chlamydiosis, psittacosis, or ornithosis.
When it infect any bird it is referred to as avian psittacosis; the culprit being Chlamydia psittaci. Pet birds in the parrot family, including parrots, parakeets, macaws, and cockatiels, are the most common carriers. Other birds that may also spread C. psittaci include pigeons, doves, mynah birds, and turkeys.
Birds carrying the organism may appear healthy, but they can shed the parasite in their feces. The symptoms of avian psittacosis, include inactivity, loss of appetite and ruffled feathers. They may suffer from diarrhea, runny eyes and nasal discharge, and green or yellow-green urine. Sick birds can be well treated with antibiotics.
- Psittaci is spread from birds to humans through exposure to infected bird feces. This can occur while cage cleaning, or by the handling of the infected birds. In humans, parrot fever can range in severity from minor flu-like symptoms to severe and life-threatening pneumonia.
Causes & Symptoms
Cross contamination is usually transmitted by inhaling dust, from dried bird droppings, or by simply handling the infected birds. Humans can also spread the disease by person-to-person contact; that rarely happens.
The symptoms will develop within five to 14 days of exposure, and include fever, headache, chills, loss of appetite, cough, and tiredness. In the severest cases, as I’ve already said, the patient develops pneumonia. People who work in pet shops, or who keep pet birds, are the most susceptible.
Only 100-200 cases of parrot fever are reported each year in the United States. It is possible, however, this illness is more common than is reported, because it is can be confused with other types of influenza; or pneumonia. Doctors should consider a diagnosis of parrot fever if the patient has had a recent history of exposure to birds.
This can be confirmed by blood tests, for antibodies, usually complement fixation, or immunofluorescence tests. The organism is difficult to culture. A chest x ray may be used to further identify the cause of the pneumonia.
Psittacosis is treated with an antibiotic, usually tetracycline (Achromycin, Sumycin); doxycycline (Doxy, Vibramycin); or erythromycin (Eryc, Ilotycin). Oral medication is typically prescribed for at least 10-14 days. Severely ill patients may be given intravenous antibiotics for the first few days of therapy.
The prognosis for recovery is excellent when treated with antibiotic therapy. Over 99% of patients with parrot fever will fully recover. Severe infections, however, may be fatal to the elderly, untreated persons, and persons with weak immune systems.
As of 1998, there is no vaccine effective against this fever. All birds imported into the country as pets, should be quarantined. This is necessary to ensure they do not carry this parasite, and are safe to be sold.
Health authorities also strongly recommend breeders, and importers, feed all of their birds a special blend of feed mixed with antibiotics. It is suggested this be done for 45 days so any possible C. psittaci organisms are destroyed. In addition, bird cages; food and water bowls should be thoroughly cleaned every day.
- A potential illness in pet birds, and poultry. It is also known as parrot fever.
- An organism related to bacteria which infects some types of birds, and can be transmitted to humans.
- There are numerous ways which these types of zoonotic infections can be passed. Direct contamination may be the result of scratches and/or bites (saliva) from infected animals, or through contact with urine and/or feces that may contain these harmful organisms. Even though, only a small percentage of these infections result from pet contact, it is important for all bird owners to be aware of the potential risks.
- It is recommended tests be performed upon an initial purchase or acquirement of any new pet, regardless of origin before it enters your home. This should be done, especially, if the animal has been purchased at a pet store, or parrot rescue; where poor hygiene, unsanitary conditions, and crowded cages tend to be a factor. We also urge any pet owners wishing to start a family, or who already have small children that they test their animals for these pathogens.
- Most of these infections are harmful to pregnant women (Toxoplasma gondii), and/or younger children who tend to play with their pets. When parrots come to our ‘rescue’ we make every effort to get as much information about the bird that we can; unfortunately it’s not always possible to do.
- For example — with an emergency, and depending on the circumstances, parrots can be sick and not show it. If a bird is infected and is not treated, it can kill all the other parrots.
- Plus, the fact, the humans can get sick.
Chlamydiosis, psittacosis, or ornithosis.