Chlamydiosis is a serious disease of birds caused by a bacterium Chlamydia psittaci. It can affect a large number of bird species but the most commonly affected birds are parrots (especially cockatiels and budgies), pigeons and doves. It is a disease that can pass from birds to people.
Signs of disease in birds
Birds may have lethargy, anorexia and ruffled feathers. Diarrhoea and discharges from the eyes and nose commonly occur. The urates (the white part of bird droppings) may change to green or yellow indicating the liver is involved. Some birds may die suddenly without appearing ill beforehand. Some birds may carry the organism without getting ill. These birds may infect other birds or people.
Transmission of the disease
The organism is usually spread by aerosols of dried faeces or in the sneezed droplets from infected birds. It can be picked up from their parents or from infected birds kept in the same room or aviary. Birds from pet shops are particularly at risk, they are slightly stressed and exposed to a large number of birds from all sorts of aviaries. Once birds have commenced treatment they no longer shed organisms and are not a risk to birds or people.
Course of the disease
The organism multiplies in the conjunctiva of the eye or in the lining of the nasal passages. It can spread from there into the bird's lungs and air sacs causing pneumonia. In some cases the organisms then spread through the blood and multiply in the liver, spleen and finally the brain.
Diagnosing the disease
The signs a sick bird is showing or the appearance of the organs at post mortem may cause us to suspect the disease. We can be more certain of the disease if we use laboratory testing (either histopathology or antigen testing).
Treating the disease
We can treat birds using medication in their drinking water. This is a good way of treating a flock of birds but is generally only about 80-85% effective.
The birds should be kept in a stress free environment and provided with good nutrition. If you are using the water based treatment you should reduce the amount of fruits and vegetables the birds are receiving and remove all mineral blocks and grit.
Most birds will improve markedly in the first week of treatment. If you do not finish the course of treatment the bird may relapse or become a carrier of the disease, so it is important to give the full course of medication.
Vigorously clean the cage or aviary with hot soapy water once a week throughout the treatment process. Disinfection with household bleach at 10mls per litre of water is effective.
Preventing the disease
ü Buy birds direct from breeders when possible. Inspect their aviaries and birds and assess the general health of the flock and the hygiene of the aviaries.
ü Never buy or sell a bird that looks ill or "fluffed up"
ü Quarantine all new birds for 30 to 45 days before introducing to existing birds. Test or treat all new birds.
ü Consider birds that have been to shows or exhibitions as new birds and quarantine them.
ü Maintain high standards of hygiene in your own cages and aviaries.
The disease in humans
Chlamydia can spread from birds to humans. This is more likely to happen if your immune system is low through drugs (cancer treatments, cortisone treatment), disease (HIV, hepatitis) or severe stress. In humans the disease can produce severe flu like symptoms (fever, chills, headache and weakness) and occasionally progress to pneumonia. You should consult with your doctor and inform them of the possibility of chlamydiosis if you have had any of these symptoms recently.
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