Chlamydia Psittaci – A Lethal Intracellular Bacterial Species

Chlamydia Psittaci – A Lethal Intracellular Bacterial Species

The background of Chlamydia psittaci: In 1879 seven people in Switzerland developed pneumonia after exposure to tropical birds. The cause was not known at the time. In 1907, a similar bacterial species, Chlamydia trachomatis, came to light. It was at first considered a virus. During the winter of 1929 and 1930, a pandemic broke out in Europe and the US. It killed up to 20% of those who contracted the causative disease. In pregnant women, the mortality figure was much higher at around 80%! Identified as psittacosis, the pandemic was finally traced to Amazon parrots from Argentina.

Chlamydia psittaci – What Is It

Psittacosis is a bacterium or disease caused by Chlamydia psittaci. It was at first thought to be a virus. But in the 1960’s, examination under electron microscope identified it as a bacterium. C psittaci is usually carried by birds, hence its other common name Parrot Fever. In fact, psittacosis comes from psittakos, the Greek word for parrot.

Chlamydia psittaci – How It Spreads

Whilst birds usually carry the bacterium, horses, cattle, sheep and pigs can also carry it. But the most common way humans catch Psittacosis remains via infected domestic birds. Including poultry. They shed the bacterium in their droppings and other secretions. We then inhale it from these contaminated sources. Or get it via mouth to beak contact! Person to person contact though has not yet been proven to spread C psittaci!

Those who handle birds and poultry on a regular basis are at higher risk of contracting C psittaci. This includes people who work in the poultry industry, bird owners, vets and pet shop staff.

Preventing Chlamydia psittaci

Birds infected with psittacosis may display a range of symptoms ranging from none to mortality. Symptoms generally include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Runny nose and/or eyes
  • Weakness

It is often difficult to tell whether a bird has psittacosis. If you suspect this to be the case, arrange for the bird to see a vet immediately. Treatment includes isolation from other birds, antibiotics and disinfection of their environment.

People who are in constant contact with birds should take all possible precautions. Including:

  • Wash hands with soap under running water before and after handling birds.
  • Avoid mouth to beak contact
  • House birds in ample sized clean cages or pens.
  • Line cages and pens with clean newspaper and change the newspaper often. Before droppings accumulate, dry out or emit airborne dust. Dampen dry droppings before handling to reduce dust
  • Ensure you wear proper protective clothing when cleaning cages or handling bird droppings. IE gloves and P2 mask. Wash hands when finished.
  • If handling infected birds or their environment, wear appropriate protective clothing
  • Buy pet birds from licensed aviaries or pet stores.

Chlamydia psittaci Symptoms In People

Onset of psittacosis symptoms usually occurs 4 – 15 days after exposure to the bacterium. Symptoms of Chlamydia psittaci include:

  • Aching muscles
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pains
  • Chills
  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • General weakness
  • Headaches

Pneumonia can also develop in severe cases. And rarely, other complications include encephalitis and myocarditis. Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. Myocarditis is inflammation of the muscles of the heart.

Diagnosing And Treating Chlamydia psittaci

A doctor will diagnose psittacosis. He or she will consider your symptoms, perform an examination and run some tests. Tests may include blood tests for the C Psittaci bacteria as well as a chest x-ray.

Older people are usually affected more severely than younger people. Luckily though this disease is not very common. And is treatable with appropriate antibiotics. A full treatment program generally takes around 2 weeks.

Chlamydia psittaci And Public Health Requirements

In many countries, psittacosis is a notifiable disease. Laboratories may have to notify public health authorities of positive tests. Public health workers will need to talk to the patient and doctor to find out the source of the infection. Anyone else who has been exposed to infected birds will also need to be informed. The infected bird / birds and their environment will need medical treatment and disinfecting.