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psittacosis, psittacosis treatment
Psittacosis — also known as parrot fever, and ornithosis — is a zoonotic infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Chlamydophila psittaci and contracted from infected parrots, such as macaws, cockatiels and budgerigars, and pigeons, sparrows, ducks, hens, gulls and many other species of bird The incidence of infection in canaries and finches is believed to be lower than in psittacine birds

In certain contexts, the word "psittacosis" is used when the disease is carried by any species of bird belonging to the family Psittacidae, whereas "ornithosis" is used when other birds carry the disease1


  • 1 In humans
    • 11 Signs and symptoms
    • 12 Diagnosis
    • 13 Treatment
    • 14 Epidemiology
  • 2 In birds
    • 21 Signs
    • 22 Diagnosis
    • 23 Epidemiology
    • 24 Treatment
  • 3 Use as a biological weapon
  • 4 Notable casualties
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links

In humansedit

Signs and symptomsedit

In humans, after an incubation period of 5–19 days, the symptoms of the disease range from inapparent illness to systemic illness with severe pneumonia It presents chiefly as an atypical pneumonia In the first week of psittacosis the symptoms mimic typhoid fever: prostrating high fevers, joint pains, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, nose bleeds and low level of white blood cells in the blood2 Rose spots can appear and these are called Horder's spots3 Spleen enlargement is common towards the end of the first week It may become a serious lung infection Diagnosis can be suspected in case of respiratory infection associated with splenomegaly and/or epistaxis Headache can be so severe that it suggests meningitis and some nuchal rigidity is not unusual Towards the end of the first week stupor or even coma can result in severe cases

The second week is more akin to acute bacteremic pneumococcal pneumonia with continuous high fevers, headaches, cough, and dyspnea X-rays show patchy infiltrates or a diffuse whiteout of lung fields

Complications in the form of endocarditis, liver inflammation, inflammation of the heart's muscle, joint inflammation, keratoconjunctivitis occasionally extranodal marginal zone lymphoma of the lacrimal gland/orbit, and neurologic complications brain inflammation may occasionally occur Severe pneumonia requiring intensive-care support may also occur Fatal cases have been reported less than 1% of cases


Blood analysis shows leukopenia, thrombocytopenia and moderately elevated liver enzymes Differential diagnosis must be made with typhus, typhoid and atypical pneumonia by Mycoplasma, Legionella or Q fever Exposure history is paramount to diagnosis Diagnosis involves microbiological cultures from respiratory secretions of patients or serologically with a fourfold or greater increase in antibody titers against C psittaci in blood samples combined with the probable course of the disease Typical inclusions called "Leventhal-Cole-Lillie bodies"4 can be seen within macrophages in BAL bronchoalveolar lavage fluid Culture of C psittaci is hazardous and should only be carried out in biosafety laboratories


The infection is treated with antibiotics Tetracyclines and chloramphenicol are the drugs of choice for treating patients with psittacosis5 Most persons respond to oral therapy doxycycline, tetracycline hydrochloride, or chloramphenicol palmitate For initial treatment of severely ill patients, doxycycline hyclate may be administered intravenously Remission of symptoms usually is evident within 48–72 hours However, relapse can occur, and treatment must continue for at least 10–14 days after fever abates


Psittacosis was first reported in Europe in 18796

In 1929, a highly publicized outbreak of psittacosis hit the United States Although not the first report of psittacosis in the United States, it was the largest up to that time It led to greater controls on the import of pet parrots6 The aftermath of the outbreak and how it was handled led to the establishment of the National Institutes of Health7

From 2002 through 2009, 66 human cases of psittacosis were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and most resulted from exposure to infected pet birds, usually cockatiels, parakeets, and macaws Many more cases may occur that are not correctly diagnosed or reported Bird owners, pet shop employees, zookeepers and veterinarians are at risk of the infection Some outbreaks of psittacosis in poultry processing plants have been reported

In birdsedit

An immature little blue heron with psittacosis

In birds, Chlamydia psittaci infection is referred to as avian chlamydiosis AC Infected birds shed the bacteria through feces and nasal discharges, which can remain infectious for several months Many strains remain quiescent in birds until activated under stress Birds are excellent, highly mobile vectors for the distribution of chlamydial infection because they feed on, and have access to, the detritus of infected animals of all sorts


C psittaci in birds is often systemic and infections can be inapparent, severe, acute or chronic with intermittent shedding Signs in birds include "inflamed eyes, difficulty in breathing, watery droppings and green urates"8


Initial diagnosis may be via symptoms, but is usually confirmed via an antigen and antibody test A PCR-based test is also available Although any of these tests can confirm psittacosis, false negatives are possible and so a combination of clinical and lab tests is recommended before giving the bird a clean bill of health8 It may die within three weeks


Infection is usually via the droppings of another infected bird, though it can also be transmitted via feathers and eggs,9 and is typically either inhaled or ingested8

C psittaci strains in birds infect mucosal epithelial cells and macrophages of the respiratory tract Septicaemia eventually develops and the bacteria become localized in epithelial cells and macrophages of most organs, conjunctiva, and gastrointestinal tract It can also be passed in the eggs Stress will commonly trigger onset of severe symptoms, resulting in rapid deterioration and death C psittaci strains are similar in virulence, grow readily in cell culture, have 16S-rRNA genes that differ by <08%, and belong to eight known serovars All should be considered to be readily transmissible to humans

C psittaci serovar A is endemic among psittacine birds and has caused sporadic zoonotic disease in humans, other mammals, and tortoises Serovar B is endemic among pigeons, has been isolated from turkeys, and has also been identified as the cause of abortion in a dairy herd Serovars C and D are occupational hazards for slaughterhouse workers and for people in contact with birds Serovar E isolates known as Cal-10, MP or MN have been obtained from a variety of avian hosts worldwide and, although they were associated with the 1920s–1930s outbreak in humans, a specific reservoir for serovar E has not been identified The M56 and WC serovars were isolated during outbreaks in mammals


Treatment is usually via antibiotics, such as doxycycline or tetracycline, and can be administered via drops in the water, or injections9 Many strains of C psittaci are susceptible to bacteriophage

Use as a biological weaponedit

Psittacosis was one of more than a dozen agents that the United States researched as potential biological weapons before the nation suspended its biological weapons program10

Notable casualtiesedit

The most high-profile death caused by parrot fever is that of Thea Selway, mother of Radiohead drummer and singer Philip Selway11


  • The initial content for this article was adapted from sources available at http://wwwcdcgov
  1. ^ "ornithosis" at Dorland's Medical Dictionarydead link
  2. ^ Dugdale, David "Psittacosis" MediLine Plus Retrieved 9 September 2012 
  3. ^ "Horder's spots" GPnotebook 
  4. ^ Saif, Y M 2003 Diseases of poultry Ames, Iowa: Iowa State Press p 863 ISBN 0-8138-0423-X 
  5. ^ Gregory DW, Schaffner W 1997 "Psittacosis" Semin Respir Infect 12 1: 7–11 PMID 9097370 
  6. ^ a b Potter ME, Kaufmann AK, Plikaytis BD February 1983 "Psittacosis in the United States, 1979" MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 32 1: 27 
  7. ^ "In 1929, Parrot Fever Gripped The Country" National Public Radio All Things Considered May 31, 2009 
  8. ^ a b c "Winged Wisdom Pet Bird Magazine - Zoonotic Bird-Human Diseases: Psittacosis, Salmonellosis" Retrieved 2007-12-29 
  9. ^ a b "PSITTACOSIS DISEASE - Pet Birds, Pet Parrots, Exotic Birds" Retrieved 2007-12-29 
  10. ^ "Chemical and Biological Weapons: Possession and Programs Past and Present", James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury College, April 9, 2002, accessed November 14, 2008
  11. ^ Radiohead: The complete guide Pedia Press p 45 

External linksedit

  • Psittacosis on Birds n Ways

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