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Division of Epidemiology
275 E. Main St.
Frankfort, KY 40621
502-564-3418 or 3261

What Is Psittacosis? 

Psittacosis is a disease caused by the bacterium chlamydia psittaci. It is also called ornithosis, parrot fever or avian chlamydiosis. It occurs worldwide. Birds are host the bacter. They may be obviously sick or appear healthy, but can be carriers of the infectious organism. Although all birds are susceptible, pet birds such parrots, parakeets, macaws, cockatiels and love birds; and poultry, such as turkeys and ducks, are most frequently involved in transmission to humans.

How Psittacosis Is Spread

The bacteria are inhaled from dried droppings, secretions and feather dust from infected birds. Birds may shed the organism intermittently or even continuously for months. The incubation period for humans is 1 to 4 weeks. Imported birds are the most common source of infection for bird owners. Pet shop employees and veterinarians are at greatest risk for exposure. Occupational exposure also can occur in poultry processing facilities and laboratory settings.

The Symptoms of Psittacosis

The symptoms may vary but often include fever, headache, rash, muscle aches, chills, cough and pneumonia. This disease is usually mild and many infections may not be diagnosed; However, human disease can be severe with other complications involving the heart, liver or brain.

How Psittacosis Is Diagnosed

Psittacosis is diagnosed by isolation of the infectious agent from the patient’s sputum or blood, or by blood tests that demonstrate antibody to C. psittaci.

The Treatment For Psittacosis

Antibiotics from the tetracycline group are recommended for this organism and should be given for 10 to 14 days after a patient's body temperature returns to normal. Long lasting immunity does not develop following a psittacosis infection.

How Psittacosis Can Be Prevented

Education of bird owners, pet store owners, and people at risk for occupational exposure is important along with regulation of the importation of psittacine birds. It's important to prevent or eliminate infections in birds with quarantine and appropriate antibiotic treatment and to conduct surveillance on human psittacosis cases to locate the infected birds for treatment or removal. The area where the birds were housed should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.  Also, surveillance should be conducted on avian chlamydiosis to find the source of infection for initiation of the proper quarantine and treatment measures.
The Compendium of Measures to Control Chlamydia psittaci Infection Among Humans (Psittacosis) and Pet Birds (Avian Chlamydiosis), 2000, was published in the MMWR Recommendations and Reports, July 14, 2000/Vol.49/No.RR-8.


Last Updated 12/16/2008