What is psittacosis infection?
Psittacosis is a disease caused by infection of the respiratory tract (throat, windpipe, and lungs) with Chlamydia psittaci. C. psittaci is a type of bacteria that can infect all types of birds. Psittacosis in people is most commonly associated with pet birds, like parrots and cockatiels, and poultry, like turkeys or ducks.

How common is psittacosis infection?
Since 2010, fewer than 10 confirmed cases have been reported in the United States each year. However, experts believe the disease is potentially underreported and underdiagnosed.

People of all ages can get psittacosis, but it is more common among adults. Those who have contact with pet birds and poultry, including people who work in bird-related occupations, are at increased risk:

  • People who own or care for birds
  • Aviary and pet shop employees
  • Poultry workers
  • Veterinarians

What are the symptoms of psittacosis?
In general, psittacosis causes mild illness in people. The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Dry cough

Psittacosis can also cause pneumonia (a lung infection) that may require treatment or care in a hospital. Rarely, psittacosis can result in death.

Most people begin developing signs and symptoms within 5 to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria. Less commonly, people report the start of symptoms after 14 days.

How is psittacosis spread?
The bacteria can infect people who care for and clean up after infected birds. It is important to know that all infected birds do not have symptoms or seem sick. Both sick birds and birds without symptoms shed the bacteria in their urine, feces, and respiratory secretions. The most common way someone gets infected is by breathing in the dust from these dried secretions. Less commonly, birds infect people through bites and beak-to-mouth contact. In general, people do not spread psittacosis to other people.

When to call your doctor
Psittacosis is rarely reported and the symptoms are like many other illnesses. For these reasons, clinicians may not suspect it, making it difficult to diagnose. Tell your healthcare provider if you get sick after buying or handling a bird.

How is Psittacosis diagnosed?
The most common samples collected for testing are:

  • Blood to detect specific antibodies the body makes in response to an infection
  • Sputum (phlegm) or swabs from the nose and/or throat to detect the bacteria directly

How is psittacosis infection treated?
People diagnosed with psittacosis usually take antibiotics to treat the infection. Most people improve quickly if they start antibiotics soon after they first get sick.

How do I avoid psittacosis infection?
While there is no vaccine to prevent psittacosis, there are things you can do to protect yourself and others. Buy pet birds only from a well-known pet store. If you own pet birds or poultry, follow good precautions when handling and cleaning birds and cages

Safe Bird and Cage Care:

  • One important aspect of preventing psittacosis is to control infection among birds.
  • Keep cages clean; clean cages and food and water bowls daily.
  • Position cages so that food, feathers, and feces cannot spread between them (i.e., do not stack cages, use solid-sided cases or barriers if cages are next to each other).
  • Avoid over-crowding of birds.
  • Isolate and treat infected birds.

Use water or disinfectant to wet surfaces before cleaning bird cages or surfaces contaminated with bird droppings. Avoid dry sweeping or vacuuming to minimize circulation of feathers and dust. Use gloves and a mask when handling infected birds or cleaning their cages. Also remember to thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap after contact with birds or their droppings.