Love Birds?

But don’t kiss them!!!!

Do you love your bird? That’s good but you shouldn’t get carried away with your affection. For instance, kissing your bird is not healthy and one reason for this is the disease Psittacosis. Psittacosis is a zoonosis, a disease which can be spread from animals (birds in this case) to humans.

Psittacosis is a disease that affects all birds but is more common in birds of the parrot family. Lovebirds, budgerigars, cockatoos and parakeets often suffer from the disease but, pigeons, poultry and canaries can also become infected. Wild birds can certainly suffer from and spread the condition. Wild birds were apparently the cause of Australia’s largest human outbreak of psittacosis in 2002.

In humans, the disease can range from being very mild to being very serious, even fatal. The human infection is also known as parrot fever, pigeon-keeper’s disease or ornithosis. It can spread from one human to another, but this is rare.

How do you humans become infected?

Humans get the disease from birds by inhaling the virus-like bacteria that is shed in dust and dander from birds’ feathers, body secretions and droppings. The more contact a person has with birds the greater is the chance of infection. Therefore, people working in aviaries and pet shops and pet owners who keep birds (particularly those who keep large numbers) are most at risk.

How common is human infection?

The disease is not common in humans, however more cases of psittacosis have been reported in recent times. In 1996, eighty-five cases were reported in Australia however a large outbreak of psittacosis was reported in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales between March and June in the year 2002. In this year, 144 cases were reported in New South Wales alone and there was one psittacosis-related death reported in this state in each of 2001 and 2002.

The Blue Mountains outbreak was the largest reported outbreak of human psittacosis in Australia to date. The outbreak appeared to be related to the disease in wild birds. Outbreak analysis showed that risk factors included residents mowing their lawn without using a catcher, and the presence of large numbers of wild birds in the area. Presumably the dust from the mower dispersed the disease organisms.

The disease was seen more in males and the most common age group affected were 50 to 64-year-old people.

How common is Psittacosis in birds?

While many birds can carry the disease, it is not spread to other birds or humans unless the carrier bird is stressed in some manner. Factors which could cause a bird to transmit the organism include overcrowding, poor food quality, other infections that make the bird sick and even movement to a new home.

How can Psittacosis be prevented?

Sensible hygiene will stop the disease so cleanliness is the most important matter.

Clean your bird’s cage regularly to remove droppings, discarded feathers and other debris. It is the dust from such accumulated matter that could spread the disease.

If you are cleaning a large aviary, wear a suitable mask so that you do not inhale dust from the cage. Wear gloves to keep your hands clean. Hosing will reduce the dust.

Wash your hands after handling your bird and be especially cautious if your bird is unwell.

If your bird is sick, take it to your veterinarian to have its condition diagnosed and treated. If your veterinarian confirms a psittacosis infection, ask your veterinarian how to clean out the bird’s cage and if there are any precautions you should take.

How can Psittacosis be treated in birds?

Birds affected by psittacosis can develop a range of symptoms. Weight loss and diarrhoea are common as are respiratory diseases, including discharges from the nose and eyes. Conjunctivitis often occurs.

However, if the disease is detected early enough birds usually recover if there is no other underlying disease.

Sick birds should be quarantined away from the rest of your flock but all birds should be treated for the disease, not just your sick bird.

Antibiotics from the tetracycline group are usually effective and disinfectants should be used to clean the cages.

How can Psittacosis be treated in humans?

In humans, the disease causes fever, headache, general malaise and fatigue, muscle aches, a dry cough and flu-like symptoms such as shortness of breath and sometimes pneumonia. The Blue Mountain epidemic mostly presented as a respiratory disease.

Humans can suffer from kidney failure and severe liver disease and the condition can be fatal if treatment is delayed.

If you feel you may have the disease, consult your doctor and remember that the disease is usually easy to remedy if it is treated early enough.

So, it’s OK to love your birds but let’s not kiss them!!

Pethealth Articles Available

Dr Cam Day

Dr Cam Day

Vet Behavioralist

Dr Cam Day is a Veterinarian consulting full-time in pet behaviour in South-East Queensland, Australia.