Once again, a pet store is being sued following a death related to a pet sold at the store. Earlier, we reported a pet store being sued by a woman whose husband died of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. Now, a pet store is being sued after a man died of psittacosis. This disease is caused by Chlamydophila psittaci, a bacterium that is most commonly found in psittacine birds (parrot family). It can cause disease in birds but can also be carried by healthy birds. The family had purchased a cockatiel prior to the man’s illness, although details about the timing of disease, the bird’s health and whether the bird was identified as carrying Chlamydophila psittaci aren’t clear.

Typically, psittacosis causes flu-like disease and is easily treated, if diagnosed properly, however more severe disease can develop. Infected birds can shed the bacterium through feces and nasal secretions. People usually become infected by inhaling aerosolized bacteria from dried feces or nasal secretion.

Psittacosis is an uncommon disease. Only 125 human cases were reported to the CDC in the US between 2000 and 2006, however many more cases probably occurred. The risk of acquiring psittacosis from a pet bird is very low.

  • Bird owners should make sure that their physician is aware that they have contact with birds. Psittacosis should be considered in people with flu-like disease that have bird contact.
  • Do not buy birds that look unhealthy (lethargy, nasal or eye discharge, ruffled feathers…).
  • If you have other birds, isolate new birds for 30 days before allowing them to have contact with existing birds.
  • Reduce aerosolization of materials when cleaning cages. Lightly wetting cage paper will reduce the risk of aerosolization.
  • Wash your hands after handling birds or cleaning their cage.

More information on psittacosis is available in the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians’ Psittacosis Compendium.