Ornithosis (parrot disease) is a chlamydia infection of birds that can also affect humans. The transmission takes place mainly by parrots, corvids, pigeons and turkeys. Ornithosis in humans leads to flu symptoms ranging to pneumonia. It is rather rare in Germany. However, it can be fatal if not treated on time. Here you can read all important information about ornithosis.
The ornithosis (parrot disease) is caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila psittaci. Originally it was assumed that the parrot disease is transmitted exclusively by parrots. From this assumption derives the historical name of the ornithosis: psittacosis, after the Greek word psittakos for parrot. Today it is known that other birds can transmit the ornithosis. Therefore, today the name ornithosis is used because it includes the full range of Chlamydophila psittaci infections.
Although parrots and budgies are not native to Germany, they are the most common source of infection. In second place is the widespread pigeon, which can be found in all German cities. Even ducks or turkeys can transmit ornithosis, but this is rarer.
The ornithosis is considered an occupational disease for chicken farmers, zoo workers or pet staff. Although a human-to-human transmission is generally possible, it is rare. However, if the disease is transmitted directly in this way, a serious course is frequent and those affected become very ill.
Ornithosis occurs worldwide. In the industrialized nations it seems to have increased slightly over the last decades. This change is attributed to the increased import of exotic birds.
Infection path of the ornithosis
If infective dust enters the human body during inhalation, ornithosis may develop. This dust usually contains particles of bird droppings or other bacteria-containing secretions. Chlamydophilia psittaci is very demanding in its environment. It needs very specific conditions for it to survive. These conditions are found in the respiratory tract. Here it successfully penetrates into the cells of the lung surface, multiplies and triggers an infection. There is an inflammatory reaction in most cases, which can range up to pneumonia.
Droplet infection is the most common way to get infected. Rarely also smear infections occur. In this case, the ornithosis is transmitted by direct contact with infected animals or their faeces.
Between infection and the first symptoms are usually one to two weeks. Experts call this period incubation time. During this time, the bacterium multiplies, without the human being noticing something of it. Not all individuals who are infected with the ornithosis bacterium will inevitably develop symptoms. There is a very wide range of complaints from which patients report.
These range from no sense of illness to severe consciousness restrictions and life-threatening organ failure. As a rule, the ornithosis is initially characterized by flu symptoms with fever, chills, headache and body aches. After a few days the respiratory symptoms increase. Cough, shortness of breath, shortness of breath and pain in breathing are some of the signs that may indicate pneumonia. Sore throat and swollen cervical lymph nodes are also common in ornithosis, as the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract provide the ideal food source for ornithosis.
In severe cases, the pathogen also spreads to other organs. There is a risk of disturbances of consciousness and gastrointestinal complaints. However, such spread is rare and is an elusive exception.
Ornithosis: causes and risk factors
Ornithosis is mainly transmitted from birds to humans. However, other mammals (sheep, cats, cattle) are also described as a source of infection. Transmission from person to person is possible in exceptional cases, but is very rare.
The parrot disease occurs worldwide, but is altogether rare. In Germany, according to the Robert Koch Institute in 2013, there were only 10 cases. Since it is difficult to distinguish from a common pneumonia, the diagnosis: “parrot disease” is often not even asked, so that the actual number of infected people may be higher.
In Germany, exotic birds must be examined before being sold by a veterinarian. If an infection with the psittacosis bacteria is detected, a three-month therapy of the animals is initiated. People who deal with exotic birds or pigeons daily have an increased risk of parrot disease. Contact with the sick and newly imported birds is also a risk factor. Ornithosis occurs more frequently in middle-aged people, as they most often have professional contact with the affected birds.
Ornithosis: examinations and diagnosis
If there is a suspicion of an ornithosis, the path leads to the family doctor or pulmonologist. By talking to the patient, the doctor determines if there is a risk profile for psittacosis. He may ask the following questions:
- Do you have to deal with birds professionally?
- Did you have contact with parrots or budgies?
- Do you have fever?
- Do you feel headaches or muscle aches?
- Do you suffer from irritating cough?
- Does your chest hurt when you have to cough?
If close contact with birds is indicated and the results of the study fit with pneumonia, there is a suspicion of parrot disease.
The physical examination often reveals an enlarged liver and spleen. X-rays often show signs of atypical pneumonia. To substantiate the suspicion of ornithosis, the doctor takes blood. In the blood antibodies of the immune system can be detected, which react specifically to chlamydia. However, the test can not differentiate between different Chlamydia infection types. Thus, the test can be falsified by a parallel chlamydial venereal disease.
As it occurs much more often, there is a risk of misinterpreting the results. Ornithosis is one of the notifiable diseases in Germany. If a patient is infected, the doctor must inform the health department about the diagnosis.
The parrot disease is mainly treated with antibiotics. As a rule, this treatment is very efficient and starts quickly. For therapy, several substances are available, which must be taken over two weeks. Because it is a bacterial infection that can cause serious consequences, professionals recommend a consistent antibiotic therapy. In adults, the therapy mainly Doxycyclin is used. In children and pregnant women, erythromycin is recommended because of possible side effects.
Ornithosis: Disease course and prognosis
Not everyone who is infected with psittacosis necessarily suffers pneumonia. Gradients range from no symptoms, to severe pneumonia. In some cases, there are also typhoid-like gastrointestinal complaints with vomiting diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
The prognosis of ornithosis is very good under timely, adequate therapy. The mortality is less than one percent. Before the use of antibiotics, the mortality of ornithosis was 15 to 20 percent. It is important that the therapy is done until the end. Many patients tend to stop taking medication prematurely as soon as they feel better. If therapy for ornithosis is interrupted too soon, there is a risk of relapse. A consistent therapy is for a successful treatment of the ornithose definitely recommended.