The name for the disease Psittacosis comes from the Greek word psittakos, meaning parrot. Psittacosis, a disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydophila psittaci,is not limited to only parrots. This disease also affects many other types of birds, such as pigeons, ravens, and turkeys. This disease is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed to other creatures besides birds, such as humans.
Psittacosis is very dangerous to both humans and birds. One of the last things you want to deal with when you arrive home with your new bird is a serious illness. It's important to check your bird well for signs off disease before bringing him or her home. Symptoms that may indicate Psittacosis include lethargy, difficulty breathing, eye discharge, swelling of the eyes, and watery and/or discolored droppings. If the bird is infected, it could present all of these symptoms, some of them, only one of them, or none. Sometimes the bird will just look unhappy. It's important to note that just looking unhappy can mean illness is present. A sick bird will most likely be ruffled and sad looking. They generally won't talk or squawk and probably won't have much of an appetite. Psittacosis symptoms mimic the symptoms of several other bird diseases so just because your bird is ill, does not mean that he or she has this particular disease. The one symptom that is a pretty good indicator that the illness may very well be psittacosis is the eye discharge.
If you have decided that your bird does in fact seem ill, it's important to take your bird to your local veterinarian as soon as possible. Psittacosis can kill a bird in as little as 48 hours. This virus-like bacteria can be very life-threatening and needs to be taken seriously. The only way that Psittacosis can be diagnosed is by testing to see if the disease in present in the stool or discharge from the eyes or nose. If positive, the bird will be put in strict isolation and given antibiotics. The stools are disposed of with care because when the feces is dry it flakes off in a dust that can be breathed in. This is one of the ways the bacteria is spread. It can also be spread from the ingestion of the feces or discharge by another bird or animal. The bacteria can survive for many weeks outside a host. It's important to note that many birds are merely carriers of the disease for years, not showing any signs of illness, but shedding the bacteria in their droppings whenever they are stressed. The birds that carry the bacteria but don't actually become infected with the disease most often have a genetic resistance to the disease.
This disease is highly contagious and can bring illness to whole groups of birds. Be wary of overcrowded unsanitary conditions in pet shops when looking for a new bird companion. Even if your bird looks healthy, if other birds in the same pet shop look ill, your bird may have come into contact with a disease and not be exhibiting signs of it yet. Even clean pet stores can spread Psittacosis or other diseases. This is simply because of the way that birds are often kept in large groups and confined to cages. In the wild Psittacosis is present most often in flock birds but usually doesn't cause too much of a problem because of the way birds travel. Sick birds often cannot fly with the rest of their group and get left behind to die alone. This may sound sad and horrific, but this ensures that other birds do not get infected and, in the end, more birds survive. There isn't much choice in captivity when it comes to a bit of crowded confinement in pet stores. The biggest weapon we have against this disease is proper hygiene and prompt treatment of Psittacosis when it is present. Another very big thing the United States can do to combat Psittacosis is to cease the import of wild birds from South America, Mexico, and other places. When birds are captured from the wild and imported into the U.S., these birds are often very stressed and very likely to be infected with a large variety of diseases, including Psittacosis. People involved with the selling of wild caught birds usually don't give a hoot about the birds health. They only care about the money they will get from selling these birds. This is why Psittacosis is a fairly significant problem among wild-caught birds and it is one way in which more cases of Psittacosis are being spread among birds in the United States.
- Written by: Arianna Pleitez
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