Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chlamydiosis

While Penske and Bucky are in quarantine, I thought it might be a good time to talk in more detail about quarantine and the reasons for it, as well as the discussion of various diseases that can endanger our birds (and in some cases us)!

So, are we all up for a series on zoonotic disease? No needles, and no pain - I promise!

Before I get started, let me repeat my mantra regarding quarantine:

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If *we* could tell the health of a bird by *looking* at it, there would be no need for the expenditure of thousands of dollars, time and effort on quarantine stations for birds entering this country. It would be as simple as hiring a couple of us to stand at the border, look at each bird, and declare it *disease free*.

Now, again risking the great possibility of skinning my already scarred knees, I shall carefully jump off my soap box before I fall!
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Zoonotic diseases are a select group of diseases, caused by various agents, that can be transferred from animals to humans. In other words, the disease causing agents can cross the species barrier. Naturally, I will focus on those diseases that can be transferred from avian to human. The infectious agent can be: protozoal, fungal, bacterial, chlamydial or viral.

The paper I have linked to above, is one of the most extensive I have seen on the topic and in my estimation, certainly worth the read.

Chlamydiosis
Also known as psittacosis or parrot fever when affecting psittacines. These names are used interchangeably.

When affecting all other birds (or humans), it is called: ornithosis.

The disease agent is chlamydia psittaci, a bacteria-like organism.

This disease still presents a threat to the companion bird population, as it has been found in several pet store chains in the U.S. (See my Quarantine post for further links to news reports of this disease being found in U.S. pet store chains.) It may be even more prolific outside the U.S. It is also a threat to poultry and wild bird species such as ducks, geese and pigeons.

Transmission:
Airborne (inhalation of contaminated fecal dust).

Contaminated objects and surfaces such as clothing, equipment, toys, perches, food dishes, etc.

Secretions (feces, nasal and eyes)

This disease can also be transmitted from bird to bird by a carrier bird, one that harbors the disease, symptom free, sometimes for years. The carrier bird periodically sheds the organism through feces, nasal secretions, and/or secretions of the eyes. Contact with these then produce an acute infection in other birds. Shedding is likely to increase during times of stress.

Human to human transmission is possible, most notably through the exchange of saliva.

Incubation Period:
4 to 15 days

Avian Symptoms:
Diarrhea
Coughing
Red weepy eyes (conjunctivitis)
Nasal discharge
Weight loss
A variety of other symptoms may be seen as is the case with all ill birds such as lethargy, reduced appetite, excessive sleeping, failure to perch, etc.

The morbidity rate is high, especially untreated.

Young birds with immature immune systems are especially susceptible, making neonatal psittacosis a serious threat.

If a bird does receive treatment, and survives a bout of psittacosis, it can leave the immune system compromised and weakened.

Birds do not develop any lasting immunity to this disease, and therefore may be reinfected if re-exposed.

Usual treatment is 45 days of a broad spectrum antibiotic.

An avian vet can perform specific tests to identify this disease.

Human Symptoms:
Fever
Chills
Sore throat
Joint and muscle pain
Headache
Cough
Chest pain
Sensitivity to light
Conjunctivitis
Loss of appetite

**Important note**
Robin, to her knowledge, has never experienced a loss of appetite, except possibly during a tonsillectomy when she was 5 and under general anesthesia! EEK!

Complications to humans can include:
Enlarged spleen
Inflammation of heart muscle (myocarditis)
Reduction of heart rate

Treatment:
Usually a drug such as tetracycline for 3 weeks

Humans do not develop an immunity and are susceptible to reinfection.

***Important***
Exposure to psittacosis does not mean transmission. It means exposure, which involves the possibility for transmission.

The transmission of psittacosis from avians to humans is often listed as uncommon or rare. Naturally, if the young, the elderly, expectant mothers, or those with compromised immune systems contract the illness, it is of greater concern.

I am always more concerned about the health and welfare of my birds than I am my own. I am guessing that most of you are the same. We would gladly endure illness instead of watching our birds experience it.


Bringing new birds into the home, such as Penske and Bucky this week, means my top priority is protecting my existing flock. Then I worry about protecting myself.

This means I tend to the care my existing flock first. Then, I take care of Penske and Bucky. Then I change my clothes and shower. This is the best means of protecting my flock. Overkill? It depends on ones perspective and level of risk aversion.

Do I think Penske and Bucky are ill? No. I really don't. They show no visible signs of illness. They are young, and at this point perhaps a bit perkier and more active than their older soon-to-be friend, Strider! Is there a possibility that they are ill? Yes. That possibility always exists. It is worth risking no quarantine, or breaking quarantine early on an assumption or hope that they are not ill? No. Even something as straightforward as scaley mites could present a danger to my existing flock. And that is not transmissible to humans. It, like many other infections and parasites, can be harbored and appear during times of stress such as moving to a new home.

Is it tempting to break quarantine? Yes, I think all of us who quarantine feel that temptation at one time or another. We are anxious to unite birds and see friendships develop. The more we know, the less we will be tempted to give in to the lure of breaking quarantine or failing to quarantine.

If I had a separate dwelling where I could quarantine these birds, I would. Ideally, a separate air system as well. Since my home does not have central air or heat, I am one step ahead in this respect since no shared air is circulated through such a system.

Additionally, Bucky and Penske are on a separate level from Coco and Strider, as far from them as they can be given my circumstances.


Psittacosis (parrot fever/chlamydiosis) is a serious disease that can have a great impact on a flock as well as individual birds. Add into that the possibility of transmission to humans, and then the possibility of transmission from one human to another, and I believe we can agree that it pays to be informed, aware and prepared to take every feasible precaution to prevent the spread of this disease.

Well, if that didn't give you the heebee jeebee's, check in for tomorrow's post! Bright, chipper, and hopefully very, very healthy, Bucky and Penske invite you to read about a different zoonotic disease in tomorrow's post!


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