Healthy Lungs
Diseases & Conditions
Contributed byMaulik P. Purohit MD MPHJan 03, 2019

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Chlamydia Infection causing Psittacosis
  • Parrot Fever
  • Respiratory Psittacosis

What is Psittacosis? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Psittacosis is an infectious disease with flu-like symptoms affecting humans, which is caused by a microorganism called Chlamydophila psittaci (a gram-negative bacterium)
  • Psittacosis is commonly contracted from parrots, pigeons and poultry birds (the bacteria causes avian chlamydiosis in these birds), but other birds can also transmit the disease
  • This condition primarily targets the lungs and damages them, leading to the symptoms of dry cough, fever, chills, fatigue, and shortness of breath. The infection may also progress and affect other organs such as the brain, heart, and liver
  • Antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment for Psittacosis. With proper treatment, Psittacosis has a very good prognosis; the affected individuals can have a full recovery
  • Psittacosis can be prevented by avoiding exposure to the infected birds

Who gets Psittacosis? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Psittacosis can occur in any age group including children, but individuals who are exposed to the infected birds (caged pet birds) have a very high risk of the condition
  • It affects both males and females
  • There is no racial or ethnic predilection

What are the Risk Factors for Psittacosis? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors of Psittacosis include:

  • Birds owners, commonly parrot or pigeon owners
  • Pet shop employees
  • Veterinarians, lab workers
  • Those who work in poultry farms, individuals who slaughter and process poultry

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Psittacosis? (Etiology)

  • Psittacosis is a bacterial infection that is caused by the pathogenic organism Chlamydia psittaci
  • This organism generally enters the body through inhalation of the infected bird’s respiratory droplets and dried feces powder (droppings). A transmission of the infection can also occur through bird bites (pecks), beak-to-mouth contact, and while handling the birds (from bird plumage). The infected birds often do not present any signs and symptoms
  • Psittacosis is commonly contracted from exposure to caged birds that are kept as pets, such as parrots and pigeons (70% of the cases are due to this factor). Hence, the condition is also known as Parrot Fever or Parrot Disease
  • However, other birds of similar kind (such as macaws, parakeets, cockatiels, doves, and mynahs) can also transmit the condition. Apart from these birds, poultry birds, such as ducks and turkeys, can cause the infection in humans
  • Occasionally, the infected birds spread the disease to mammals (cattle, sheep, and goats), resulting in the spread of Psittacosis to humans through direct contact, on exposure to the mammals. Human to human transmission is also possible, though it is rarely seen

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Psittacosis?

Normally, the signs and symptoms of Psittacosis appear within the first 2 weeks on exposure to the organism (incubation period of 5-19 days). It includes the following:

  • Dry cough, sore throat
  • Shortness of breath, fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache, joint aches, and muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pneumonia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice
  • Photophobia (increased sensitivity to light)

How is Psittacosis Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Psittacosis may include:

  • Complete evaluation of medical history along with a thorough physical exam. During physical exam, the physician will listen to abnormal lung sounds
  • Complete blood count (CBC): The white blood cell levels may be normal to mildly decreased
  • Serologic test to observe antibody titre against the organism
  • X-ray of the chest: It may reveal the presence of pneumonia
  • CT scan of the chest
  • Blood culture: A culture of the organism is usually avoided, because it can be hazardous to the laboratory workers

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Psittacosis?

Complications associated with Psittacosis may include:

  • The condition will lead to severe damage to the lung causing a decreased lung function
  • The disease may also progress and affect other organs resulting in:
    • Heart valve infection
    • Hepatitis (inflammation of the live
    • Brain involvement leading to neurologic complications           

How is Psittacosis Treated?

Psittacosis treatment is undertaken using antibiotics. Doxycycline (belonging to tetracycline group) is the most commonly used antibiotic, while other antibiotics that may be administered include:

  • Macrolides
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Intravenous administration of antibiotics in severe cases

Note: Doxycycline is not recommended in children and pregnant women.

How can Psittacosis be Prevented?

  • Psittacosis is an infectious disease that can be prevented by avoiding exposure to infected birds, particularly pet birds in cages such as parrots
  • Individuals with occupation that require handling or dealing with birds, can decrease their risk by maintaining a clean and hygienic environment and by using certain guidelines and proper practices. This may include daily/regularly keeping the work environment and bird cages clean; use of PPE (personal protective equipment) while handling birds, etc.

What is the Prognosis of Psittacosis? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • Psittacosis has a very good prognosis and is fully recoverable with suitable treatment
  • Severe cases of Psittacosis without adequate treatment may result in death

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Psittacosis:

Caged pet birds, such as canaries and finches, are generally not associated with Psittacosis.

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Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH picture
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Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

Assistant Medical Director, Medical Editorial Board, DoveMed Team


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