Avian chlamydiosis is a reportable, acute or chronic infectious disease of certain poultry, cage, wild and migratory birds. The disease is zoonotic and can affect people severely, various disease syndromes are seen in humans from mild flu-like signs through severe respiratory problems, hepatitis and even death in the elderly. In Psittacidae (parrots, parakeets, cockatoos etc) and humans the disease is called psittacosis. In other bird species it may be referred to as ornithosis.
The disease is caused by chlamydophila psittaci which is a gram negative, obligate intracellular bacterium.
The disease is spread from bird to bird by inhalation of contaminated faecal dust or also direct contact, bite wounds or other open skin wounds. Carriers will shed chlamydia intermittantly in their secretions and can therefore expose other birds to the disease.
Symptoms will vary depending on the age and species of the bird. Mild outbreaks result in few signs and may go unrecognized. In pet birds the most common symptoms include:
- anorexia and weight loss
- diarrhoea, yellowish droppings
- respiratory distress
We use PCR to detect DNA from chlamydia psittaci in faecal material. The nature of psittacosis is such that affected birds that are relatively well do not shed the organism every day. Taking pooled samples (rice grain amounts) into one sample container daily over 3 days improves detection. Only a small amount of sample can be tested in each PCR so sending large volumes of sample will not increase the chances of detection. Always discuss the testing strategy with your avian veterinarian.
Evidence indicates that successful treatment is perfectly possible, periodic re-sampling is generally advisable to monitor the success of treatment. Treatment should be discussed with your vet.