Psittacosis (Parrot Fever) fact sheet
Psittacosis is a notifiable disease.
Psittacosis, also known as parrot fever, is a bacterial infection caused by Chlamydia psittaci. Psittacosis is commonly found in parrots, but can infect both wild and domesticated birds and humans.
What are the symptoms?
The incubation period for psittacosis is between one and four weeks following exposure to the bacteria. The symptoms in humans may resemble a flu-like illness with fever, chills, headache, weakness and muscle aches. Other symptoms may be a dry cough, chest pain and breathlessness, and in severe cases pneumonia may develop.
In birds, symptoms may include diarrhoea, weakness, runny eyes or nose, ruffled feathers, or the bird not eating. It is possible that birds may not have any symptoms yet still shed the bacteria, especially when stressed.
Who does it affect?
Psittacosis can affect people who work with birds such as pet shop owners, veterinarians, and people who keep birds including parrots, cockatiels, ducks and geese. Psittacosis may also occur in people who have not had any contact with birds.
How is it spread?
Psittacosis is spread from birds to humans by inhalation of bacteria that are present in dried bird droppings, secretions and dust from the feathers of infectious birds. The bacteria may survive in dust for several months. Person to person spread of the bacteria has not been documented.
- Avoiding contact with birds, including those in suburban parks may prevent psittacosis.
- Strict hygiene measures, including washing of hands, should be observed when handling birds. Kissing pet birds may also transmit the bacteria and is therefore not advised.
- An absorbent material such as newspaper should be placed in the bottom of the trays. Faecal material should not be allowed to accumulate.
- A toxic dust mask or P2 respirator should be used when cleaning cages. These are available at hardware stores and suppliers of cleaning products.
- When cleaning cages of birds it is important to wear protective clothing, gloves and a toxic dust mask or a P2 respirator.
- Prior to cleaning bird droppings and cages should be dampened to prevent the spread of dust particles.
- Faecal material and newspaper lining the bottom of the cage should be discarded where they will not cause harm to others.
- Cages should be disinfected using bleach – a one percent solution is adequate.
- Vacuuming of cages is not recommended as a cleaning method, as this may result in the bacteria becoming airborne and spreading, thereby increasing the number of people exposed.
How is it diagnosed and treated?
Psittacosis in humans is diagnosed by blood testing, and then treated with antibiotics.