Psittacosis: Find out if you or your pet birds are at risk for this zoonotic disease.
By Cioli & Hunnicutt/Bowtie Studio/Courtesy Anastasia ThriftThe drug of choice for treating both people and birds for psittacosis is doxycycline.
Symptoms In PeopleIn people, psittacosis is primarily a respiratory disease. Chills, fever, sweats, headaches, fatigue, muscle and chest pain,fatigue, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath and a dry cough are all common symptoms.
Generally, signs appear within three to 15 days after exposure to the bacteria. The infection can vary in severity from a mildflu-like illness to severe pneumonia.
If you have any of the symptoms, tell your doctor that you have a bird or have been exposed to birds that may have beeninfected. “Many physicians will not consider psittacosis without being informed of exposure,” Phalen said. Psittacosis is[rarely diagnosed] in people, and most human physicians are not going to see it very often, if ever.
“Oftentimes a case of psittacosis will progress because the doctor misdiagnoses it as viral pneumonia and doesn’t treat it(since there aren’t antiviral drugs to treat viruses, and antibiotics which are available are not meant to cure viral infections),or the doctor might misdiagnose it as another bacterial infection and treat it with an antibiotic that is not good at killingChlamydiophila,” Dahlhausen said.
Treatments For PsittacosisThe drug of choice for treating both people and birds is doxycycline. In people, the treatment is generally recommended fora minimum of two days. “Treatment is most likely to be successful if the infection is recognized early and if the patientcompletes the entire course of antibiotics,” she said.
Pet birds need to receive doxycycline for a minimum of 45 days, along with supportive care — heat, fluids, and tube feeding,etc. The antibiotic can be given by intravenous or intramuscular injections, orally, or mixed in proper ratios with food orwater. Some forms of the drug may be a better choice than others for certain cases, depending on owner preferences, theseriousness of the bird’s condition, the number of birds being simultaneously treated, and the species of bird.
“For the bird that’s showing clinical signs of illness, you want to get drug into it fast and the best way to do that is eitherorally or by injection,” Flammer said. Oral doxycycline normally needs to be given once a day and is dropped directly into thebird’s mouth. Sometimes that’s not easy to do, especially for 45 days straight. For that reason, the injectable version of thedrug is often chosen, in which case the bird would need to be taken to a veterinarian once every five to seven days for aninjection.
Exactly how often the drug needs to be administered and at what dose depends on the species of pet bird. In cockatiels, forinstance, 50 percent of the dosage of doxycycline is gone within four to six hours. “But when we give the same drug dose ona body weight basis to a Goffin’s cockatoo, it takes about 20 hours for the drug to be gone. That makes a huge difference inhow often you’re going to give that drug,” Flammer said. For birds that are asymptomatic carriers, doxycycline medicatedwater usually works well.
“The water soluble doxycycline is ideal if you’re treating a large flock of cockatiels, lovebirds, passerines, or other smallbirds,” Dahlhausen said. “To try to treat each of these birds orally on a daily basis or even just doing an injectable once aweek would be a difficult task, but the water treatment is fairly easy to administer.” Budgerigars in particular do not seem todo as well on the medicated water. Three years ago Flammer developed a treatment regimen for budgies usingdoxycycline-medicated seed, and he has had a lot of success with that.
There can be some side effects of long-term doxycycline use, so pet birds on treatment should have routine checkups withtheir avian veterinarian to monitor their condition. “There is the potential of toxicity from the drugs, as well as disruption ofthe normal digestive tract bacteria with an overgrowth of bacteria that can cause disease or with an overgrowth of yeast,”Phalen said. Oftentimes an anti-fungal drug or a broad spectrum antibiotic may be prescribed to
Finally, do not try to treat a pet bird with psittacosis on your own. Speer said, “Any disease process that’s been dabbled withpharmacologically is going to be much harder to diagnose later on when a veterinarian does see the bird.” Anover-the-counter medication may kill just enough of the organism in the organism to make a PCR test go negative, forinstance, and give the clinician the false impression that the bird does not have psittacosis.
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