Psittacosis is an airborne and potentially fatal infection sometimes known as "parrot fever." It is transmissible to birds and human beings. People are exposed to and can contract psittacosis by inhaling dust from the dried waste of an infected bird. In birds, symptoms can include sleepiness, shivering, weight loss, breathing difficulties, and diarrhea. To diagnose a potentially ill bird, an avian veterinarian performs a fecal test and prescribes an appropriate course of antibiotics.
If you are thinking about acquiring a bird, you should know that mass-market companies like PetSmart and PETCO buy their birds from breeding mills that often cut corners for the sake of profit and leave animals to suffer the consequences. Many birds from such places are subjected to cruel conditions, including severe crowding, and can suffer from untreated illnesses and injuries. Never buy an animal from a pet shop—for the animal's sake and for the sake of your family's health.
As is true with dogs and cats, there are far more birds than there are good, permanent homes for them. If you have the love, patience, and understanding necessary to provide the many, many years of care that a bird needs, you can help by adopting a homeless bird who has been examined and deemed healthy by a veterinarian. Bird adoption—preferably of more than one bird, so that birds can keep each other company—is the right and responsible thing to do. Buying from a pet shop or a breeder is not.
If you already have a bird and fear that he or she might be sick (look for the symptoms mentioned above), have the bird tested by a veterinary professional.
Commonly Asked Questions
What are the signs and symptoms of psittacosis in humans?
- Symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and dry cough.
- Chest X-rays of people with psittacosis often show pneumonia.
- The incubation period in people is five to 19 days.
What is the treatment for psittacosis?
- Antibiotics are prescribed to treat humans and birds.
- If left untreated, psittacosis may lead to neurological complications, severe pneumonia, and secondary infections of the heart and liver. It can be fatal in some cases.
What can I do to prevent psittacosis?
- Clean your bird's cage frequently in order to avoid accumulation of dried dust-forming waste—this is the general rule. Also, be sure to keep your bird's immune system strong by making sure that he or she is not depressed (e.g., bored, lonely, unstimulated), and allow your bird ample flight time, toys, and socialization with you and, if at all possible, other birds. Visit http://www.helpinganimals.com/animalsHome_birds.asp for more information on proper, humane bird care.
A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, "Psittacosis" [Internet]. A.D.A.M., Inc.; c2008. [cited 2008 Jun 10]. Available from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000088.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, "Disease Listing: Psittacosis" [Internet]. c2005. [cited 2008 Jun 10]. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/psittacosis_t.htm
New York State Department of Health Fact Sheet [Internet]. [cited 2008 Jun 10]. Available from: http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/psittacosis/fact_sheet.htm