Psittacosis


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“Psittacosis,” “Chlamydiosis,” “Ornithosis,” and “Parrot Fever” are different names for the same thing: a horrible bacterial illness that affects all birds, including parrots, as well as people. Tales of “Parrot Fever” from years ago led some people to believe that parrots were “filthy,” hazardous pets! Aside from parrots, the parasite that causes this sickness is present in over 100 bird species. Psittacosis first gained notice in the 1930s, when it reached epidemic levels in both Europe and America, causing a worldwide concern over the importation of parrots. Initially, highly tight laws were imposed to limit the spread of this illness (which is of great concern due to its capacity to infect people as well as birds).

Psittacoses have been almost eradicated as a result of required 30-day quarantine periods and the systematic administration of chlortetracycline for all confined birds. Why is “nearly” used? There are still some infected birds available due to the popularity of smuggling parrots for profit, as well as rare failures in rigorous quarantine protocols. The same low grade aviaries that deal with smuggled birds also conduct inadequate husbandry, enabling the illness to thrive and spread. Because psittacosis may be transmitted to people, all cases must be reported to public health authorities. A confirmed illness necessitates quarantine and antibiotic therapy (chlortetracycline). It is largely curable if detected early. Untreated birds may recover spontaneously, but they remain carriers and continue to transmit the illness.

Weight loss, diarrhea, low appetite, lethargy, and tiredness are symptoms that are similar to those of many other disorders. Droppings are often pasty and pale green. The bird often seems to be sick, with watery eyes and a runny nose. Breathing may be difficult. There is a fecal test that may detect the infection, a unique intercellular bacterium known as “Chlamydia Psittaci.” The sickness is usually lethal if left untreated.

The greatest preventive is to acquire from trustworthy, clean sources and to schedule an urgent vet check after purchasing a new bird. New birds should be quarantined for 30 to 60 days, apart from all other birds (not just physical contact, but optimally, air space as well). A diversified, well-balanced diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruit, sprouts, whole grains, legumes, natural pellets, and seeds aids in the development of a healthy immune system. And, of course, strict cleanliness. Wash your hands often and prevent contact with other birds. Allow strangers to touch your bird without first sanitizing their hands. Psittacosis is a dangerous and sometimes fatal disease in humans. It begins as a cold or flu, then progresses to a respiratory infection and fever. It is treatable if diagnosed early and treated with antibiotics (as in birds.)

While Psittacosis is no longer a concern and responds well to medicines and supportive care when discovered early, ignoring any ill bird may result in needless suffering and death. Keep your bird healthy and happy by practicing good husbandry and scheduling regular “Well Bird” check-ups, as well as immediate vet visits if a bird appears or acts abnormally.

There is no vaccination to prevent this once-common illness, but common sense, care, and attention to detail may help. Avoid sickly, “bargain basement” birds; the danger is not worth it. Don’t allow Psittacosis get to you or your bird!

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