Psittacosis

Psittacosis is a bacterial disease mostly associated with birds. People can be infected and birds are usually the source of infection.

More information

Contact Queensland Health if you have concerns about psittacosis and human health.

Visit the National (USA) association of state public health veterinarians website for more information on psittacosis and chlamydiosis.

Scientific name

Chlamydia psittaci

Other names

Ornithosis; Parrot fever; Pigeon-keepers' disease

Distribution in Queensland

The disease can occur in any area of Queensland.

Affected animals

birds; humans

Hosts

Birds

Symptoms

Birds

Infection is common in birds of the parrot (psittacine) family that includes budgerigars, lovebirds and parakeets. Other birds that may be infected include canaries, poultry and pigeons.

Some infected birds show no clinical signs, while others will show signs of illness such as inflammation of the eyes, respiratory problems and watery droppings.

Birds showing signs of disease should receive antibiotic treatment. Cages or aviaries that are contaminated should be cleaned and disinfected to prevent risk of infection for other birds and people.

Horses

Psittacosis has been rarely associated with lung disease in horses in the past.

More recently, psittacosis has been associated with abortion, stillbirth and ill-thrift foals in horses in New South Wales and Queensland. There have been two outbreaks in NSW that have resulted in infections amongst humans in contact with suspect material. The Australian horse industry is currently researching the number and impact of such cases.

Humans

Influenza-like symptoms may develop 4-15 days after contact with an infected animal, with fever, headaches and general aches and pains. Most people with psittacosis develop an irritating cough. The illness usually runs for 7-10 days and, provided early treatment is given, few problems occur.

How it is spread

Humans

Humans most commonly catch the disease from infected birds by inhaling the bacteria from feathers, secretions and droppings.

The disease is uncommon in people, with about 15 cases reported each year in Queensland.

Due to their close contact with animals and birds that may carry the disease, veterinarians, bird fanciers and workers in aviaries or zoos are most at risk from psittacosis.

Meat pigeon (squab) farmers are also at risk, especially if they are new to farming pigeons.

The risk of psittacosis infection from horses is currently under investigation by the Australian horse industry. People in close contact with horses with late term abortions may be at risk of infection.

Control

Prevention

Exercise good personal hygiene. Wash hands after handling birds, especially parrots, and take any sick birds to a veterinarian to allow the illness to be investigated and controls put in place.

Control dust and wear dust masks when cleaning aviaries or bird enclosures or when working in other areas contaminated with bird faeces and discharges.

People should use high levels of hygiene when dealing with cases of equine abortions, stillbirths or neonatal illness to prevent spread between horses, and to prevent human infection with psittacosis or other infectious agents. Hygiene should include use of personal protective equipment including gloves, P2 respiratory masks, and thorough cleaning and disinfection of clothes, self and equipment.

Treatment

People with psittacosis are treated effectively with antibiotics. A doctor should be consulted as soon as possible.