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Chlamydiosis (Psittacosis, Ornithosis)

By: Dr. Branson Ritchie

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Chlamydiosis is a disease caused by the bacteria-like organism Chlamydia psittaci. This is a similar bacteria to Chlamydia trachomatis, a cause of venereal disease in people, but behaves much differently. Other names for the disease include psittacosis, parrot fever, and ornithosis.

Chlamydiosis can be spread to people. Usually, the very young and very old, people on immunosuppressive medications or with immunosuppressive diseases are most at risk. Proper precautions must be taken when treating a bird with chlamydiosis.

The bacteria is spread from an infected bird in its droppings and respiratory secretions (ie. sneezing and coughing). A bird is infected by ingesting contaminated material or by inhaling the bacteria.
Chlamydial infections can cause varied clinical signs in birds. Birds with symptoms suggestive of chlamydiosis are most often birds that have been recently purchased or recently exposed to large groups of other birds.

Watch for general signs of disease like lethargy, loss or appetite and weight loss. Look also for signs of respiratory tract disease like difficulty in breathing, discharge from the nostrils, swelling of the tissues around the eyes or discharge from the eyes.

Watch also for signs of digestive tract or liver problems such as loss of appetite, diarrhea or yellowish or greenish discoloration of the urates and urine.

Veterinary Care

Diagnosis

The bird's history and physical examination can provide clues as to whether your bird may be infected. There are several tests available to the avian veterinarian that can better diagnose the disease. Chlamydia lives inside cells, and for this reason the disease can be difficult to diagnose. No test is 100 percent accurate for diagnosing chlamydiosis. Therefore, your veterinarian must decide the best way of testing your bird. Diagnostic tests might include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Blood chemistries
  • Cytology (microscopic evaluation of cells)
  • Radiographs (X-rays)
  • Serology (testing for antibodies)
  • Culture for chlamydia
  • DNA probe-based test (PCR) on a choanal and fecal swab.
  • DNA probe-based test (PCR) on whole blood.
  • In clinic ELISA for detecting chlamydia

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