Q & A: Contracting psittacosis

Q: Do all birds carry the psittacosis-causing bacteria, and how do people get the disease?

A: All avian species are capable of carrying Chlamydophila, but this does not mean that every individual bird is affected. People get the disease mainly by inhaling feather dust or aerosolised droppings produced by an infected bird or by ingesting infected material.

Chlamydophila can be deadly to people, so it is recommended to have your pet birds tested to make sure they are not carrying the disease. Wild birds, like pigeons, are probably the birds who cause the highest number of human infections with this organism. The resulting disease is known as ornithosis, whereas if the illness is contracted from an infected parrot the condition is known as psittacosis.

Psittacosis is treatable but you should alert your doctor to the possibility that you may have been exposed if you develop symptoms like unusual sweating, flu-like symptoms and joint pain after being around birds.

Dr Dorianne Elliott, veterinarian


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