Psittacosis, also known as “parrot fever” is a bacterial infection which is capable of passing to humans (technically known as a “zoonotic” infection). Despite the alternative name psittacosis is not found solely in parrots; a large number of other bird species are also capable of carrying the disease including pigeons and poultry.
It is believed that roughly 1% of wild birds are infected with the disease though in captivity the disease can spread much more quickly. It is possible for birds to simply be “carriers” without displaying any of the classic symptoms.
Causes of Psittacosis
Psittacosis is caused by the bacteria Chlamydophila psittaci. It may be passed from one bird to another or even onto humans.
The most common forms of transmission are coming into contact with the faeces of an infected bird, though it can also be contracted through contact with feathers.
For this reason while it is unusual to contract psittacosis from wild birds individuals working in the pet trade (particularly with wild-caught birds) or in poultry farming are believed to be particularly at risk of infection.
Symptoms of Psittacosis
Many of the symptoms of psittacosis take on the form of flu. Red swollen eyes, fever and headaches are common. More severe cases can cause diarrhoea, fever and joint pain. Difficulties breathing is also commonly observed. A few cases have seen coma induced by the bacteria.
Psittacosis in Humans
Psittacosis is not a commonly-observed condition in birds or in humans so the odds of contracting it are slim. That said a serious infection passed from birds to humans can create complications. If a case is suspected then it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible before the infection has a chance of develop.
Due to the broad range of symptoms and its rarity, the signs of psittacosis may initially be diagnosed wrongly as another infection. Should you suspect psittacosis after being exposed to birds you should inform your doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment of Psittacosis
Fortunately while psittacosis presents an assortment of unpleasant symptoms can be relatively easy to treat. A range of antibiotics can be very effective and once treatment has commencement most symptoms will normally clear up within a week or ten days.
The treatment for infected birds is very similar – albeit with smaller doses.
Until the infected animal receives the all-clear they should be kept isolated to prevent infection of other animals. Great care should also be taken when cleaning infected cages so as to avoid the risk of contracting the bacteria yourself.