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Parrot Fever (Psittacosis): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Few diseases always catch people’s attention when mentioned and unfortunately parrot fever, commonly known as psittacosis, happens to be one of them.

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Parrot fever is classified as a zoonotic disease that affects different types of pet birds, especially parakeets and macaws.

What Is parrot fever?

Psittacosis or parrot fever is a disease that targets more than 400 species of birds and including some mammals. The disease is caused by a bacterium such as Chlamydophila avium, Chlamydophila psittaci, or Chlamydophila gallinacea.

Other bacterium has also been known to cause the disease and can be transmitted from one bird to another, or from an infected bird to some mammals, including humans.

How are birds infected with parrot fever?

Healthy birds do not have to come in direct contact with birds that are infected with the disease to get it. There are other ways uninflected birds can contract the disease, and they include:

  • Contact with an item or person that has touched an infected bird
  • Fomites on water bowls and food
  • Feather of an infected bird
  • Airborne particles
  • Feces
  • Items that have been exposed to infected birds

Symptoms of parrot fever in birds

Parrot Fever (Psittacosis)

Psittacosis in birds can cause a variety of symptoms that may lay dormant and go unnoticed. Parrot fever in infected birds may not show any signs until they are stressed, and symptoms may include the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Fluffed feathers
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Puffy eyes
  • Enlarged liver
  • Nasal discharges
  • Respiratory complications
  • Diarrhea

An infected bird would typically show symptoms of infection after about three days while sickness may manifest at any time in the carrier of the bacterium.

Symptoms of parrot fever in mammals?

Parrot fever in mammals can cause a series of severe health complications, such as:

  • Reproductive complications such as inflamed placentas and miscarriage
  • Respiratory issues such as coughing and pneumonia
  • Fever
  • Nasal discharges
  • Fatigue

While some mammals remain asymptomatic to the disease, parrot fever can be fatal if left untreated in animals that show signs. Further tests may be required to diagnose the disease fully, mainly because the symptoms may be an indication of an underlying issue not related to psittacosis.

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Diagnosing parrot fever in birds

Because the symptoms of parrot fever can manifest as an array of several other pet diseases, special tests are required to diagnose the presence of Chlamydophila psittaci correctly.

Observing sample tissues under a microscope, detection of antigens and nucleic acids, cultures and several serological tests may be recommended by a veterinarian (preferably an avian vet). These are done to diagnose your pet bird with parrot fever, and in most cases, more than one test may be required.

The bacterium that caused the disease can be detected in several places in an infected bird including the lungs, liver, faeces, kidneys, excretions from the eyes, spleen, cloaca, the choana, and the pericardium ( the tissue that wraps around the heart).

Infected birds that are showing symptoms of parrot fever can easily be diagnosed, unlike birds that show no signs but have the disease. In most cases, multiple faecal samples would have to be tested to find the bacterium, particularly in affected birds that don’t show signs.

Bird species that commonly get infected with parrot fever

Psittacosis can affect a number of pet birds, including those that belong to the psittacine family, generally referred to as parrots. Birds in the psittacine family that could get infected could include the following:

Other birds that also easily contact the disease include birds like pet pigeons and ducks. Several other birds in the wild are equally susceptible to the disease.

Treatment

Fortunately, there are treatments for parrot fever. About half of the affected birds die from the infection if left untreated; however, antibiotics are usually used to treat the disease successfully.

Because birds can’t take all the same type of antibiotics as mammals, vets can easily prescribe doxycycline for about 45 days to get rid of the disease in the bird’s system.

If your pet bird isn’t suffering from C. psittaci, then another kind of antibiotics belonging to the sulfonamide class may be administered as well. It’s important to note that this drug may not have any effect on other commonly known types of parrot fever-causing bacteria.

Preventing parrot fever in your bird

One of the easiest ways to prevent the disease is to disinfect your bird space as often as you can. Some disinfectants have properties that can kill some bacteria that can cause the disease.

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Ensure to wash your hands properly if you’ve handled other birds before attending to your bird. Items like cages, food dishes, and toys for sale at bird shows can have fomites from infected birds. These should be thoroughly washed and aired before introducing them to your bird.

Wild birds are easy carriers of parrot fever. Humans frequently handle baby birds that drop from their nests, injured birds, and dead birds that carry the disease. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly if you’d handled any birds in the wild before handling your bird at home.

If you intend to adopt a new pet bird, then it is imperative that you have the bird quarantined before introducing it to other pets that you may own. This is done to help you accurately monitor the bird for any signs of parrot fever or any other diseases.

Also, have your avian veterinarian check your bird for not-so-obvious signs that may only require tests to detect. It is essential that the bird stays isolated until it is ruled psittacosis-free.

Clean environments, good ventilation, and proper hygiene are reasonable steps to be taken to halt the spread of the disease.

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