(Parrot Fever; Ornithosis)
Psittacosis is an infection that is passed to humans from birds. It may cause a variety of flu-like symptoms.
Bacteria as Seen Through Microscope
Psittacosis is caused by a specific bacteria. The bacteria is passed from a sick bird. People may come in contact with the bacteria when they inhale the dust of dried bird droppings from the sick bird. The bacteria can also pass when a person touches his or her mouth to the beak of an infected bird. Even minor contact with sick birds can lead to psittacosis. The bacteria can pass from one person to another, but it is rare.
Handling a pet bird increases the risk of psittacosis. Some infected birds have symptoms, such as losing feathers, runny eyes, a change in eating habits, and diarrhea. Other birds may appear well, but can still spread the infection to humans.
Certain occupations also increase the risk of this infection including:
- Zoo worker
- Laboratory worker
- Poultry plant worker
Birds most often associated with psittacosis infection in people, include:
Psittacosis may cause:
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Chest pain
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your body fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may be taken of your body structures. This can be done with a chest x-ray.
Psittacosis is treated with antibiotics.
Some infection can cause severe breathing problems that will require hospitalization. Oxygen will be given to help your breathing. IV antibiotics will also be given to help speed medication throughout the body.
To help reduce your chance of getting 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 with bleach or rubbing alcohol.
- Avoid birds that appear to be sick.
- If your bird appears to be sick, take it to a veterinarian right away.
- If you care for an infected bird, wear a mask and protective clothing, including gloves, eye wear, and a disposable surgical cap. You should also wear a properly fitted respirator with an N95 or higher rating.
American Veterinary Medicine Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Public Health Agency of Canada
Compendium of measures to control Chlamydia psittaci infection among humans (psittacosis) and pet birds (avian chlamydiosis), 2000. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2000;49(RR-8):3-17.
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 February 2, 2009. Accessed December 22, 2014.
Psittacosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/atypical/psittacosis.html. Updated February 7, 2014. Accessed December 22, 2014.
Stewardson AJ, Grayson ML. Psittacosis. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2010;24(1):7-25.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.