What Is Psittacosis?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Psittacosis is an infectious disease that primarily affects birds, but it can also spread to humans. People with pet birds or who work around birds are more likely to contract this infection than others. 

While it’s relatively rare, some experts suggest that infection rates are higher than documented. This is because not everyone seeks treatment since symptoms are sometimes mild or some people don’t show signs at all.

This overview article looks at the basics of psittacosis, including symptoms, causes, and treatments. 

A budgie sits on the arm of a man or woman.

Aleksandr Zubkov / Getty Images

Psittacosis Basics

Psittacosis, also known as ornithosis or parrot fever, is an avian disease that birds can transmit to humans. The infection is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci.

Psittacosis Symptoms 

If you contract psittacosis from an infected bird, you may experience:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Headache
  • An unproductive cough

Some people also develop a facial rash in response to the infection in rare cases.

However, not everyone develops symptoms. In some cases, people can be asymptomatic. 

Psittacosis can lead to pneumonia (lung infection) or brain or heart inflammation if left untreated. You’re at higher risk of complications if you’re older or have a compromised immune system. Thankfully, serious complications are rare.

It can be challenging to diagnose psittacosis because symptoms don’t always develop right away. Symptom onset can take five to 14 days and rarely even longer.

Symptoms in Birds

Birds are very good at hiding signs of illness. That’s because any signs of sickness make them prime targets in the wild. 

But even pet birds tend to hide when they’re not feeling well. Some signs of psittacosis include:

  • Very watery droppings 
  • Fluffy, ruffled feathers and a puffy appearance 
  • Anorexia (not eating)
  • Discharge from the eyes or beak area


Psittacosis Causes

You can contract psittacosis if you come into contact with an infected bird via:

  • Breathing in feather dust or dust from dried droppings
  • Putting your mouth on an infected bird’s beak 
  • Directly handling an infected bird 

It’s also possible to contract the disease from another human, but this is highly unlikely.

Psittacosis Risk Factors

People who don’t come into frequent contact with birds aren’t likely to contract psittacosis. You’re more likely to get it if you:

  • Have a pet bird or parrot
  • Work in a pet store with birds
  • Breed birds 
  • Work with poultry
  • Are a veterinarian 
  • Work with wild birds or at a zoo

Some birds are more likely to contract psittacosis than others, especially pet birds like parrots and parakeets.

Diagnosis

The symptoms of psittacosis are similar to many other upper respiratory infections. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you have contact with birds, which is an important clue. A healthcare provider will diagnose psittacosis in humans based on reported symptoms and a blood test.

Other tests they can use to diagnose the disease, rule out diseases with similar symptoms, or look for complications include:

Psittacosis Treatments

Healthcare providers treat psittacosis in birds and humans with a course of antibiotics. Because psittacosis usually doesn't spread from person to person, you can resume your usual activities when you feel well enough to do so.

Prevention

Good hygiene is an essential factor in preventing the spread of this disease.

If you have a pet bird, you may not even know it’s infected with psittacosis since birds don’t always display symptoms. 

To prevent possible transmission:

  • Limit beak to mouth contact
  • Always wash your hands after handling a pet bird
  • Clean cages and play areas regularly 
  • Wear a mask or respirator when cleaning cages

If you think your bird is sick, it’s important to get veterinary care. Psittacosis is a treatable disease in both birds and humans. Treatment can help prevent it from spreading to humans and other birds. 

Summary

Psittacosis is a disease in birds that can spread to humans. You can get the disease by breathing airborne infected bird dropping or feather dust particles, handling infected birds, or touching your mouth to a bird’s beak. 

Symptoms are usually flu-like, but it can be hard to detect psittacosis in birds since they hide illness very well. The infection is treatable with certain antibiotics. 

A Word From Verywell

You can protect yourself from this infection by maintaining good hygiene when interacting with pets and wild birds or cleaning their living environment. If purchasing a pet bird, it’s crucial to avoid untrustworthy breeders. 

Keeping a close eye on your pet bird is always a good idea. It can be hard to spot when a bird isn’t feeling well. A bird is usually very sick when it displays the first signs of illness. 

Was this page helpful?
8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rare Diseases Database. Psittacosis

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Psittacosis.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Psittacosis signs and symptoms.

  4. Budoia J, Tagliari C, Villa R, et al. Dermatologic manifestations of psittacosis. Journal of American Academy of Dermatology. 2012:66(4). doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2011.11.459

  5. NSW Government. Psittacosis (ornithosis) fact sheet.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Psittacosis: causes, how it spreads, and people at increased risk.

  7. Massachusetts Government. Psittacosis in birds and people.

  8. MedlinePlus. Psittacosis