Having a pet or working with animals can be a great thing. For some people, it does not only mean giving kindness and attention to animals, but also making themselves feel better and happy. In the modern world, working with animals is indeed a career that promises a good future and living with animals may actually be good for mental health. However, just as with many things in life, there will always be risk of getting sick from it and may be needing medicine. In this article, we will learn about a disease that is associated with certain animals known as psittacosis.

Psittacosis is an infectious disease that spreads to humans from infected birds, mostly from the parrot family. It is caused by the Chlamydia psittaci bacteria. Psittacosis is also known as parrot fever and ornithosis. While birds from the family of parrot are said to be the common reservoir for the bacteria to live in, the disease process can occur in any bird species including pigeon, doves, chicken, turkeys and pheasants. It has been documented that over 467 different species of birds have been identified to carry the disease. Hence, the major risk for a person to get psittacosis is when there is exposure to the bird by direct contact with the infected birds or through inhalation of the bacteria in the air in the form of aerosol from faeces, urine, respiratory and eye secretions of these birds.

Psittacosis can affect anyone of any age but most commonly affects those in middle aged. Those who are at high risk for psittacosis are those exposed to pet shops, veterinary hospitals, bird exhibitions and occupation in the poultry industry, zoo and farm. Most common way the bacteria infects the human is through inhalation of dust containing dried dropping or respiratory secretion from the infected birds. Infection through bites and beak-to-mouth contact is considered rare. Transmission of the infection from a human to another is rare.

Symptoms of psittacosis can range from no symptoms to severe ones. Symptoms typically appear within 4 to 15 days after exposure. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle ache (myalgia) and dry cough. Breathing difficulty or pneumonia can also occur. PAlthough it mainly affects the lungs, pustacosis can affect other organs as well. Reports show that inflammation to the liver, lining of the heart cavity, heart muscle and brain, may occur, despite being considered rare.

When a person is suspected of psittacosis, especially with a history of exposure to the infected birds, he or she should get checked by a doctor. Doctors may run several tests such as blood tests and swabs to identify the bacteria causing the symptoms. Imaging tests such as X-ray or CT-scan may be ordered by doctors to evaluate a patient’s lung. Culture testing could be used to verify the diagnosis.

Treatment for psittacosis mainly consists of antibiotics. Most commonly used first is doxycycline. Other antibiotics that may be given are macrolides and other tetracyclines. Since antibiotics are used as its main treatment, it is important for patients to not self-treat themselves as antibiotics require prescription and the right instructions on using it. This is especially true for patients that may not be suitable for doxycycline such as pregnant women and children.

Is psittacosis curable? Yes, psittacosis is curable as there are antibiotics that can treat this infection. Patients can expect full recovery if they do not have other medical conditions. It is important to treat psittacosis as to leave it untreated, can lead to many complications such as acute respiratory distress syndrome, respiratory failure and many organ problems such as hepatitis and myocarditis.

The best way to not get psittacosis is to take preventative measures. This includes:

  • Feedings birds properly and with good nutrition
  • Avoiding overcrowding the birds
  • Ensure adequate ventilation system for the bird
  • Isolate infected birds
  • Educate workers at risk about psittacosis
  • Those involved with care of the infected birds should wear protective clothing including gloves, eyewear, a disposable surgical cap and a properly fitted respirator of N95 or higher
  • Avoid dry sweep. Brush or vacuum when cleaning cages
  • Always wash hands with water and soap or use disinfectants after in contact with birds
  • Ensure yourself are having good immune as weak immune system can increase risk for the infection
  • Before introducing new birds into your place, ensure the birds are free from avian diseases
  • Quarantine new birds for a period of time before introducing them into your flock

In essence, psittacosis is an infection from birds caused by an organism known as Chlamydia psittaci. Infection can occur anyone of any age but commonly those in middle-aged. Those who are at high risk for this disease are those working closely or exposed to  birds. Symptoms may seem like other respiratory illnesses. It is important for those who are already at risk for the infection to get checked by doctors whenever they have symptoms. Taking preventative measures can help mitigate the risk for developing psittacosis.

Also read – Dengue Prevention

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