Psittacosis is an infectious illness that is typically transmitted from birds to humans. Birds in the parrot family, pigeons and turkeys have been known to transmit the disease. The disease is caused by bacteria known as Chlamydophila Psittaci, which is commonly found in birds within the parrot family such as macaws, parakeets, parrots and cockatiels.
Psittacosis is most often found in pet store employees and those who own birds that have been infected. Farmers and workers in slaughterhouses may also contract the disease if they process turkeys that are infected. The disease itself is spread from birds to humans when humans inhale the dust from bird droppings or by directly handling the infected birds in a slaughterhouse. There has to date been no reports of the disease being transmitted from human to human.
Symptoms of Psittacosis include chills, fever, headache and pneumonia in some cases. Most people who contract the disease will likely feel as if they have the flu or may show no symptoms at all. The symptoms in birds are often more telling. Birds may show poor appetite and discharge from the eyes and nose as well as diarrhea and a ruffled appearance when infected. Birds are much more apt to die from Psittacosis than humans are, although some fatal cases have been reported in humans, particularly in the elderly who go untreated.
There are several tests currently available to diagnose Psittacosis in birds and in humans. Treatment typically involves the use of specific antibiotics such as tetracycline. When left untreated, the disease can become fatal. The duration of the disease, when treated, is typically two to three weeks, provided the diagnosis is made early in the onset of the disease. Prevention can be done by keeping bird cages clean so as not to let fecal matter accumulate. It is also recommended that birds should be kept away from other birds not living in the same home, in order to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. Any contact with birds should be mentioned to a physician should symptoms of Psittacosis appear in humans. Complications of the disease, particularly for those not diagnosed early in the onset, include pneumonia, hepatitis, endocarditic and various neurological complications and impairments.
In 1999, the United States reported only sixteen cases of Psittacosis. Since 1996, there has been a 50 percent decrease in the number of cases reported annually. However, likely many more cases simply are diagnosed incorrectly or not reported at all.
Research began on Psittacosis in the 1950s. Today, some research is still ongoing, although most scientists are satisfied with the results obtained from previous reports. While the numbers of reported cases continue to dwindle, most are optimistic that this disease is being quarantined to infect birds and not spreading to humans as rapidly as it once did. Physicians currently prescribe antibiotics for patients to take at home, unless severe pneumonia or other complications become evident requiring a hospital stay. Veterinarians are also kept informed of any new developments in the disease in birds and are instructed on how to deal with birds that may be infected, to keep them from human contact.
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