Psittacosis

Definition

Psittacosis is an infection caused by Chlamydophila psittaci, a type of bacteria found in the droppings of birds. Birds spread the infection to humans.

Alternative Names

Ornithosis; Chlamydophila psittaci

Causes

Psittacosis is a rare disease: 100 - 200 cases are reported each year in the United States.

Bird owners, pet shop employees, persons who work in poultry processing plants, and veterinarians are at increased risk for this infection. Typical birds involved are parrots, parakeets, and budgerigars, although other birds have also caused the disease.

Symptoms

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will hear abnormal lung sounds such as crackles and decreased breath sounds when listening to the chest with a stethoscope.

Tests include:

Treatment

The infection is treated with antibiotics. Doxycycline is the first line treatment. Other antibiotics that may be prescribed include:

  • Azithromycin
  • Erythromycin
  • Rifampin
  • Tetracycline

Note: Tetracycline by mouth is usually not prescribed for children until after all their permanent teeth have started to grow in. The medicine can permanently discolor teeth that are still forming.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Full recovery is expected.

Possible Complications

  • Brain involvement
  • Decreased lung function as a result of the pneumonia
  • Heart valve infection
  • Inflammation of the liver (hepatitis)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Antibiotics are needed to treat this infection. If you develop symptoms of psittacosis, call your health care provider.

Prevention

Avoid exposure to birds that may carry this bacteria, such as imported parakeets. Medical problems that lead to a weak immune system increase your risk for this disease and should be treated appropriately.

References

Brunham RC. Diseases caused by chlamydiae. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 339.


Review Date: 8/29/2008
Reviewed By: Sean O. Stitham, MD, private practice in Internal Medicine, Seattle, Washington; and Benjamin Medoff, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Pulmonary and Critical Care Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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