Psittacosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci, carried by birds. Humans most commonly catch the disease from infected birds by inhaling the bacteria from secretions and droppings. Older people generally experience more severe illness. This disease can be treated with antibiotics.
Last updated: 01 July 2012
What is Psittacosis?
Psittacosis is an uncommon disease that is usually transmitted to humans from birds. It is caused by a bacteria called Chlamydia psittaci.
What are the symptoms?
The time from between human exposure to the bacteria and the development of symptoms varies from about four to 15 days.
People with psittacosis often develop:
- muscle aches
- a dry cough
- chest pain
In severe cases, pneumonia develops. Rare complications may include encephalitis (inflamation of the brain), or myocarditis (inflamation of the heart muscle).
How is it spread?
Infection usually occurs when a person inhales the bacteria, usually from dried bird droppings from infected birds. People can also become infected by mouth-to-beak contact (kissing) with birds or by handling the feathers or tissues of infected birds. Psittacosis has not been proven to be spread from person to person.
All birds are susceptible to infection, but pet birds (for example: parrots, parakeets, cockatiels) and poultry (turkeys and ducks) are most frequently involved in passing the infection to humans.
Contact with wild birds and their droppings can cause infection. Outbreaks have been linked to breathing in dust stirred up by lawn mowers.
Who is at risk?
People most at risk of infection with psittacosis are those who come into contact with birds through their work or hobbies. For example: bird owners, pet shop employees, vets, or people who process poultry.
How is it prevented?
In birds, symptoms of the infection can vary from none to a fatal illness. Sick birds may have symptoms such as:
- Ruffled feathers
- Not eating
- Runny eyes or nose.
If in doubt, a vet should examine your bird. Infected birds need to be isolated, treated with antibiotics and have their cages disinfected.
It can be difficult to tell if a bird is infected, so to be safe:
- Wash your hands with soap and running water for 10 seconds before and after handling pet birds.
- Avoid kissing (mouth-to beak contact with) pet birds.
- Birds should be housed in clean cages of ample size that are lined with newspaper that is changed frequently. Do not allow faecal material to accumulate, dry up or become airborne.
- Before cleaning the cage, wear a P2 mask, and gloves and dampen any bird droppings or cages, and wash your hands after completion.
- When dealing with infected birds, a paper cap and protective clothing should be worn.
- Birds should only be obtained from a licensed pet store or aviary.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose psittacosis by the symptoms, an examination and by doing some tests. Tests may include a chest x-ray, and taking some blood to test for the bacteria.
How is it treated?
Psittacosis is treated with antibiotics for a period of about two weeks.
What is the public health respopnse?
Laboratories must confidentially notify cases of psittacosis to the local public heath unit. Public health unit staff will talk to the treating doctor and patient or carer to identify where the infection may have come from. Other people who may have been exposed to an infected bird should be made aware of the symptoms of infection. The bird should be treated and its environment cleaned with disinfectant to prevent further infections being spread to other people or other birds.
|Further information - Public Health Units in NSW|
|For more information please contact your doctor, local public health unit or community health centre - look under NSW Government at the front of the White Pages|
|Metropolitan Areas||Location||Number||Rural Areas||Location||Number|
|Northern Sydney||Hornsby||02 9477 9400||Greater Southern||Goulburn||02 4824 1837|
|Central Coast||Gosford||02 4349 4845||Albury||02 6080 8900|
|South Eastern Sydney||Randwick||02 9382 8333||Greater Western||Broken Hill||08 8080 1499|
|Illawarra Shoalhaven||Wollongong||02 4221 6700||Dubbo||02 6841 5569|
|Sydney South West||Camperdown||02 9515 9420||Bathurst||02 6339 5601|
|Sydney West||Penrith||02 4734 2022||Hunter/New England||Newcastle||02 4924 6477|
|Parramatta||02 9840 3603||Tamworth||02 6764 8000|
|Justice Health Service||Matraville||02 9311 2707||North Coast||Port Macquarie||02 6588 2750|
|Lismore||02 6620 7585|