Psittacosis, also called ornithosis and previously known as Parrot Fever, is a bacterial disease that can strike birds. They can succumb to it directly or merely carry it and shed the bacteria into the environment posing a risk to other birds and even humans. Cockatiels and budgies (parakeets) are most commonly infected; however, all parrots and many other birds, such as pigeons and doves, can also become infected or act as carriers. Infected birds with a good immune system can be asymptomatic, however they may actively shed the bacteria in their feces and their respiratory secretions. During times of stress, such as molting, owners traveling, visitors staying in the home, changing the position of a bird’s cage, etc, an asymptomatic carrier may become sick with the disease . Stress and a poor immune system are underlying reasons that people contract Psittacosis. Diseases that spread from animals or birds to humans are called ZOONOTIC diseases.
Symptoms of Psittacosis in birds can vary. Birds can present with respiratory symptoms such as discharge from their eyes or nares, coughing, sneezing or wheezing. Very commonly Psittacosis affects other organs in the body such as the liver, spleen and the GI tract. The urates (or white portion of the stool) commonly turn a yellow or a lime green color. Birds can lose their appetite, become fluffed and have diarrhea. If this disease is caught in a timely fashion, your vet can treat your bird successfully via weekly antibiotic injections for 6 weeks.
At St. Marks Veterinary Hospital we recommend testing all birds for Psittacosis. Any new avian additions should be kept in a separate area from other birds for 30-60 days if possible. After the quarantine period and after testing, the birds may be introduced to each other…. although there are never any guarantees since birds may test negative and they can still harbor the bacteria.
Humans most commonly acquire Psittacosis through aerosolized infected bird droppings, although respiratory secretions can also spread the disease. In people with a good immune system, Psittacosis may mimic the symptoms of a cold that is self-limiting. However, if an individual is stressed or is immune compromised, they may become extremely ill. A very high fever (hence the previous name Parrot Fever), malaise, muscle aches and atypical pneumonia are common sequelae of the disease. It is VERY important as a bird owner to be sure that your physician knows you own a bird, especially if you are sick. Again, it is a very treatable disease as long as it is treated immediately.