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FAQs - "B" Agents

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What is psittacosis?

Psittacosis is an illness caused by infection with bacteria known as Chlamydia psittaci. Also known as parrot fever or ornithosis, it is usually transmitted to humans from birds including parakeets, parrots, pigeons, turkeys, and ducks.

Who gets psittacosis?

Since birds spread the disease, human illness is apt to occur in people who are most likely to be exposed to an infected bird such as pet store workers, pigeon breeders, poultry workers, and people who have recently purchased an infected bird.

How is psittacosis spread?

Psittacosis is usually spread by inhaling bacteria that is in the dust from dried bird droppings of infected birds or by handling infected birds in slaughterhouses. Other potential sources of exposure include bird bites, mouth-to-beak contact and handling feathers and tissue from infected birds. Some birds infected with psittacosis may appear healthy, but can still spread the infection to other birds or humans. Human-to-human spread is very rare.

What are the symptoms of psittacosis?

The symptoms of psittacosis include fever headache, chills, muscle aches, and sometimes pneumonia with a relatively nonproductive cough.

How soon after infection do symptoms occur?

The period between exposure and the beginning of symptoms can range from 5 to 19 days but is usually 10 days.

Does past infection with psittacosis make a person immune?

Infection does not provide permanent immunity form this disease.

How is psittacosis diagnosed?

Psittacosis is usually diagnosed by clinical symptoms and a history of exposure to birds. A blood test to check for antibodies to psittacosis can confirm the diagnosis.

How is psittacosis treated?

Several commonly available antibiotics are used to treat psittacosis in humans. With appropriate treatment, the vast majority of people fully recover.

How can psittacosis be prevented?

Exposed birds should be treated with feed that contains tetracycline to reduce the risk of infection. If birds are kept as pets, clean the cage often so that feces does not accumulate, dry up, and become airborne. Birds should be purchased from a reliable source that adheres to federal recommendations for psittacosis control.

Find the PDF version of this FAQ in the Zebra Manual.