Chlamydophila Psittaci (Avian Psittacosis)

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Guidance for Personnel Working with Birds at Texas A&M University-Kingsville

What is Chlamydophila psittaci?

Chlamydia psittaci is a bacterium that can be transmitted from birds to humans. In humans, the resulting infection is referred to as psittacosis (also known as parrot disease, parrot fever, and ornithosis). Psittacosis often causes influenza-like symptoms and can lead to severe pneumonia and nonrespiratory health problems.

How is Chlamydophila psittaci spread?

Infection with C. psittaci usually occurs when a person inhales the organism, which has been aerosolized from respiratory secretions or dried feces of infected birds. Other means of exposure include bird bites, mouth-to-beak contact, and the handling of infected birds' plumage and tissues. Even brief exposures can lead to symptomatic infection.

Who is at risk for infection?

The largest group infected includes bird fanciers and owners of pet birds. Other persons at risk include those whose occupation places them at risk for exposure: pet shop employees, employees in poultry processing plants, veterinarians and veterinary technicians, laboratory workers, farmers, and zoo workers. However, because human infection can result from brief, passing exposure to infected birds or their contaminated droppings, persons with no identified leisure-time or occupational risk can become infected.

Is Chlamydophila psittaci infection serious?

Infection with C. psittaci often causes flu-like symptoms and can lead to severe pneumonia and nonrespiratory health problems. Pregnant women may be at greater risk for serious infection. Most infections of psittacosis are successfully treated with antibiotics.

How can I protect myself?

  • Take measures to protect persons at high risk from becoming infected:
    • All persons in contact with infected birds should be informed about the nature of the disease.
    • If a person who has been exposed develops respiratory illness, the physician should initiate early and specific treatment for psittacosis.
    • Persons at risk should wear protective clothing, gloves, a paper surgical cap, and a respirator with an N95 rating or a higher-efficiency respirator when cleaning cages or handling infected birds. Surgical masks may not be effective in preventing transmission of C. psittaci.
  • Maintain all records of bird-related transactions to aid in identifying sources of infected birds and potentially exposed persons.
  • Do not purchase or sell birds that have signs of infection (e.g. ocular or nasal discharge, diarrhea, or low body weight).
  • Perform procedures in a class II biosafety cabinet whenever possible.
  • Do not stack cages, and be sure to use solid-sided cages or barriers if cages are adjoining. The bottom of the cage should be made of wire mesh, and litter that will not produce dust (e.g. newspapers) should be placed underneath the mesh.
  • Clean all cages and food and water bowls daily. Soiled bowls should be emptied, cleaned with soap and water, rinsed, placed in a disinfectant solution, and rinsed again before reuse.
  • Use disinfection measures
  • C. psittaci is susceptible to most disinfectants and detergents. In the clinic or laboratory, a 1:1000 dilution of quaternary ammonium compounds is effective, as is 70% isopropyl alcohol, 1% Lysol, 1:100 dilution of household bleach, or chlorophenols.

What are the signs of Chlamydophila psittaci infection?

The onset of illness follows an incubation period of 5-14 days. Persons with symptomatic infection typically have abrupt onset of fever, chills, headache, malaise, and myalgia. They usually develop a nonproductive cough that can be accompanied by breathing difficulty and chest tightness. Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abnormal intolerance to light.

What do I do if an exposure or injury occurs?

Exposure to aerosols, bites or scratches involving animals or injuries from objects contaminated with body fluids from animals require immediate first aid and medical attention. Notify your supervisor! Then, contact the University Police Department at 593-2611 or dial 911.

This page was last updated on: October 12, 2015