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Psittacosis

Alternate Names

  • ornithosis
  • chlamydia psittaci
  • parrot fever

Definition

Psittacosis is a lung infection caused by bacteria called Chlamydia psittaci. These bacteria are found mainly in birds, such as parrots, parakeets, pigeons, chickens, ducks, and lovebirds.

What is going on in the body?

Psittacosis bacteria can infect a number of mammal species. Birds are the major reservoir for the organism and are an important source for human disease. Humans usually get the disease by inhaling the bacteria from dried bird droppings or infected secretions. Symptoms begin 1 to 2 weeks after infection.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

Psittacosis is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci. Someone who lives or works around birds is at risk for getting the disease.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the infection?

Bird breeders and owners can protect themselves by avoiding the dust from the feathers and the cages of sick birds. If infected birds are discovered, they need to be treated. Their cages must be disinfected before further use. A person who has contact with sick birds should be watched for symptoms of psittacosis.

Diagnosed

How is the infection diagnosed?

The diagnosis of psittacosis is usually made when blood tests show antibodies to the organism.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the infection?

In rare cases, a person with psittacosis can develop infections of the heart, liver, brain, or spinal cord.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

It is unusual for humans to pass the psittacosis infection to each other.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the infection?

Psittacosis is treated with antibiotics, including:
  • tetracycline (i.e., Sumycin)
  • doxycycline (i.e., Adoxa, Doryx, Oracea, Periostat, Vibramycin)
  • erythromycin (i.e., EES) with or without rifampin (i.e., Rifadin, Rimactane)
  • azithromycin (i.e., Zithromax, Zmax)
  • clarithromycin (i.e., Biaxin)

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Antibiotics may cause allergic reactions or stomach upset.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the infection?

A person generally recovers completely from psittacosis with antibiotics. If infections develop in the heart, liver, brain, or spinal cord, they may require longer treatment.

Monitor

How is the infection monitored?

Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.

Sources

Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, Tierney, 2000

The Merck Manual of Medical Information, 1997

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