As an illustration of some of the points made in the recent Worms&Germs post on animal smuggling, an outbreak of psittacosis was recently reported in Russia, which has been linked to illegally imported decorative birds.  Since December 30, 21 cases of psittacosis have been reported in the Petuhovsky district of the Kurgan region.  The source of the infections was reportedly a large group of illegally imported parrots and canaries.  In late 2008, another group of 15 cases were reported in the Orenburg region of Russia, which were also associated with a large group of 1500 smuggled birds.  Compare this to statistics from the CDC, to which only 125 cases of psittacosis were reported from 2000 through 2006.

This report reiterates the infectious disease risks than can be associated with illegally imported animals, as well as some of the welfare issues (a second article reported that some of the birds in the illegal shipment were found dead when they reached the border).  It’s also important to be aware of zoonotic pathogens that can be carried by even healthy pet birds.

Psittacosis, also known as ornithosis or "parrot fever," is caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila psittaci, which is commonly carried by psittacine (pronounced "sit-a-seen") birds, often without making them sick.  These birds may shed large numbers of C. psittaci in their feces.  When the feces dry they become dusty, which can result in people inhaling the bacteria as they work around the birds.  This is the most common way for people to become infected, and can result in pneumonia.  The infection can be treated with antibiotics if it is caught in reasonable time, but it can be very serious in some cases.  The bacterium can make birds sick as well in come cases, in which case the disease is called avian chlamydiosis.

More information on psittacosis is available in the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians’ Psittacosis Compendium and in the Worms & Germs archives.