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Psittacosis

PSITTACOSIS

Psittacosis is a zoonosis, caused by bacteria of the Chlamydia family. It occurs naturally in many species of birds, such as domesticated parrots, and these occasionally infect humans, typically when parrots are kept in inadequately cleaned cages in a confined space frequented by their human owner. Psittacosis is also an occupational hazard of workers in aviaries, and outbreaks have been reported among workers in poultry farms and processing plants. However, in the twenty-first century even isolated cases are uncommon, either because of improved standards of cleanliness in places where birds are kept and poultry is processed, or owing to other ecological factors. It is more likely to occur after exposure to birds imported from Latin America or Asia than those reared in the United States.

The usual mode of infection is via infected droppings or detritus on the infected bird's feathers. Psittacosis causes a feverish illness resembling pneumonia, occasionally with other manifestations, including skin rashes and inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. It is an indolent infection that responds sluggishly to antibiotics of the tetracycline family, and can be fatal, although this is rare. Prevention depends on education of persons who are in close and continuing contact with birds, maintaining scrupulous cleanliness of bird cages, and surveillance of known or potential foci of infection such as poultry farms and shops that sell pet birds. Quarantine is applied to poultry farms and premises where infected birds have been found, and can be enforced when suspected infected birds are imported from other parts of the world.

John M. Last

(see also: Zoonoses )

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psittacosis

psittacosis (sĬtəkō´sĬs) or parrot fever, infectious disease caused by the species of Chlamydia psittaci and transmitted to people by birds, particularly parrots, parakeets, and lovebirds. In birds the disease takes the form of an intestinal infection, but in people the illness runs the course of a virus pneumonia; infection follows inhalation of dust from feathers or cage contents or the bite of an infected bird. Human psittacosis, which can be transmitted to others by cough droplets and sputum, is treated the same as pneumonia. The mortality rate may run as high as 30%. Restrictions on bird importation and attention to infected flocks of pigeons have been used to control the disease. Treatment with tetracycline antibiotic is usually effective.

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psittacosis

psittacosis (parrot disease, ornithosis) (sit-ă-koh-sis) n. an endemic infection of birds, especially parrots, budgerigars, canaries, finches, pigeons, and poultry, caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci. The infection is transmitted to humans by inhalation from handling the birds or by contact with feathers, faeces, or cage dust, but person-to-person transmission also occurs. The symptoms include fever, dry cough, severe muscle pain, and headache; occasionally a severe generalized systemic illness results. The condition responds to tetracycline or erythromycin.

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psittacosis

psittacosis (parrot fever) Disorder usually affecting the respiratory system of birds. Caused by a bacterium, it can be transmitted to human beings, producing pneumonia-like symptoms. Treatment is with antibiotics.

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psittacosis

psittacosis contagious disease of birds, esp. parrots. XIX. f. L. psittacus — Gr. psittakós parrot; see -OSIS.

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psittacosis

psittacosisglacis, Onassis •abscess •anaphylaxis, axis, praxis, taxis •Chalcis • Jancis • synapsis • catharsis •Frances, Francis •thesis • Alexis • amanuensis •prolepsis, sepsis, syllepsis •basis, oasis, stasis •amniocentesis, anamnesis, ascesis, catechesis, exegesis, mimesis, prosthesis, psychokinesis, telekinesis •ellipsis, paralipsis •Lachesis •analysis, catalysis, dialysis, paralysis, psychoanalysis •electrolysis • nemesis •genesis, parthenogenesis, pathogenesis •diaeresis (US dieresis) • metathesis •parenthesis •photosynthesis, synthesis •hypothesis, prothesis •crisis, Isis •proboscis • synopsis •apotheosis, chlorosis, cirrhosis, diagnosis, halitosis, hypnosis, kenosis, meiosis, metempsychosis, misdiagnosis, mononucleosis, myxomatosis, necrosis, neurosis, osmosis, osteoporosis, prognosis, psittacosis, psychosis, sclerosis, symbiosis, thrombosis, toxoplasmosis, trichinosis, tuberculosis •archdiocese, diocese, elephantiasis, psoriasis •anabasis • apodosis •emphasis, underemphasis •anamorphosis, metamorphosis •periphrasis • entasis • protasis •hypostasis, iconostasis

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Psittacosis

Psittacosis

Introduction

Disease History, Characteristics, and Transmission

Scope and Distribution

Treatment and Prevention

Impacts and Issues

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Introduction

Psittacosis is a bacterial zoonotic (from animals) infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci. This bacterium is present in birds and passed on to humans when they inhale airborne infectious particles such as feather dust, or bird secretions. Psittacosis causes acute symptoms of fever, headache, body aches, and a dry cough. Respiratory distress such as pneumonia may also arise. Psittacosis is not usually fatal, with approximately a 1% mortality (death) rate in the United States. Treatment using tetracycline antibiotics usually leads to a full recovery.

Psittacosis is a worldwide disease but outbreaks are rare. Importation of birds helps to spread the disease from one location to several. People in close contact with birds such as veterinarians, pet store owners, pet owners, and poultry producers are most at risk of contracting psittacosis. Psittacosis can be prevented through avoiding contact with infected birds or wearing protective gear such as gloves and masks when handling infected birds.

Disease History, Characteristics, and Transmission

Psittacosis was first identified in 1879 as a bacterial disease that infected birds and was later confirmed to also infect humans and other animals. During 1929 and 1930, a worldwide outbreak of psittacosis occurred when a shipment of infected parrots from Argentina spread the disease to numerous regions of the world. There were approximately 1,000 cases of which 200– 300 were fatal. This resulted in a ban on importation in many major countries, including the United States, but this ban was lifted in 1973.

Psittacosis is a bacterial disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydia psittaci and is common in many bird species, both wild and tame. Humans become infected with C. psittaci if they inhale dried secretions from infected birds. This may include aerosolized (suspended in the air) feces, feather dust, and droplets from sneezing or coughing birds.

Psittacosis symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, and a dry cough. Pneumonia may also occur. Severe or untreated cases of psittacosis may develop complications such as a heart valve infection (endocarditis), liver inflammation (hepatitis), and neurologic complications. The mortality rate for psittacosis is approximately 1%.

Scope and Distribution

The organism that causes psittacosis occurs worldwide. Importation of birds exacerbates the chances of infection spreading from one region to another. Furthermore, the bird industry, including poultry farming and the pet trade, provide a route for the infection to spread.

In 2002, an outbreak in the Blue Mountains, Australia, involved 59 probable cases. The source of the infection was wild birds. The outbreak prompted the health department to raise public awareness about psittacosis. In Belgium in 1995, an outbreak occurred involving customs officers. The source of the infection was imported parakeets.

Most cases of psittacosis occur in people who have a close association with birds. This includes pet owners, pet store owners, bird fanciers, and poultry producers. In addition, young children, older adults, smokers, alcoholics, and immunocompromised people (people with a weakened immune system) tend to be more susceptible to infection.

Treatment and Prevention

Infection with Chlamydia psittaci is effectively treated using antibiotics. The most commonly prescribed anti-biotics are tetracycline, doxycycline, and erythromycin. Treatment is normally administered for two weeks, after which a full recovery is expected.

The best prevention method against infection with C. psittaci is to avoid contact with infected birds, and to ensure birds are kept free from infection. Investigating the cause of sickness in ill birds will help determine whether C. psittaci is present. Once an infected bird is found, measures can be taken to prevent the disease spreading to other birds or to humans. Avoidance measures such as facemasks, gloves, and handwashing can help reduce the chance of inhaling or ingesting contaminated particles. No vaccine is available to prevent contraction of psittacosis.

WORDS TO KNOW

AEROSOL: Particles of liquid or solid dispersed as a suspension in gas.

IMMUNOCOMPROMISED: A reduction of the ability of the immune system to recognize and respond to the presence of foreign material.

MORTALITY: Mortality is the condition of being susceptible to death. The term “mortality” comes from the Latin word mors, which means “death.” Mortality can also refer to the rate of deaths caused by an illness or injury, i.e., “Rabies has a high mortality.”

ZOONOSES: Zoonoses are diseases of microbiological origin that can be transmitted from animals to people. The causes of the diseases can be bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.

Impacts and Issues

Some cases of psittacosis may go undiagnosed or be misdiagnosed as diagnosis can be difficult. The occurrence of pneumonia can mislead a practitioner to diagnose the illness as a case of pneumonia, rather than psittacosis. Therefore, the prevalence of psittacosis may currently be underestimated.

Another issue surrounding this disease is the difficulties associated with tracing the disease to its source. First, infected birds may be asymptomatic making it difficult to determine whether they are a source of infection. Secondly, the pet bird industry is not heavily regulated, making it difficult to track the exchange of birds. Therefore, tracing an infected bird back to its original origin may be impossible, making it difficult to prevent the spread of the disease. Wildlife trade, including exotic bird trade, also spreads the disease to new areas. This makes it problematic to effectively control psittacosis and prevent outbreaks.

IN CONTEXT: REAL-WORLD RISKS

Although psittacosis is a reportable condition in most states, psittacosis is a rare disease. Within the United States, the annual number of cases of psittacosis has been fewer than 50 since 1996. However, the CDC suggests that some cases of psittacosis may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases, Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases.

See AlsoAnimal Importation; Bacterial Disease; Pneumonia; Zoonoses.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Periodicals

Karesh, W.B., R.A. Cook, E.L. Bennett, and J. Newcomb. “Wildlife Trade and Global Disease Emergence.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. vol. 11, no. 7 (2005): 1000–1002.

Web Sites

American Museum of Natural History. “Some Facts about Psittacosis.” 2003 <http://research.amnh.org/users/nyneve/psittacosis.html#hist> (accessed Mar. 7, 2007).

Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “Psittacosis.” Oct. 13, 2005 <http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/psittacosis_t.htm> (accessed Mar. 7, 2007).

NSW Health Department. “Psittacosis: Questions and Answers.” 2002 <http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/public-health/pdf/PsittacosisQA.pdf> (accessed Mar. 7, 2007).

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