People that work with animals are at increased risk for certain infectious diseases. That’s pretty clear. Pet shop employees fit into this group as well, and they may be at particular risk for specific diseases because of their close contact with young animals, birds, rodents and reptiles. A suspected case of psittacosis in a Toronto pet shop worker is an example of this.

A bird in the pet store where this person worked supposedly died of avian chlamydiosis in mid-March (although the initial test results have been called into question). Avian chlamydiosis is caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila psittaci. This organism is relatively common in psttacine birds (parrot family), especially in breeding colonies, but can also be found in other types of birds. It can cause serious disease in birds, but it is also commonly carried by healthy birds. People can become infected from breathing in the bacterium, often from aersolized dust containing dried bird droppings. The disease in people is called psittacosis. The pet store worker developed signs that could be consistent with psittacosis: cough, lethargy and difficulty breathing.  However, these signs are still fairly non-specific and could also be caused by numerous other respiratory pathogens.  Test results are still pending.

People that have close contact with pet birds, especially psittacines, need to know that they may be at increased risk of psittacosis. They also need to ensure that their physicians know about their increased risk. This is important because early signs of psittacosis are very vague, such as fever and cough. Psittacosis would presumably not be high on the doctor’s list of possible diagnoses for the average person coming in with fever and a cough. If the doctor knows a person has contact with birds, hopefully psittacosis would be considered earlier so prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment can be given. This disease is readily treatable if diagnosed early, so awareness of the possibility on the part of the patient and physician are important.

This report also demonstrates why determining a final diagnosis for sick or dead pets is critical. While the diagnosis may not help the animal (especially if it’s already dead), it may play an important role in protecting the health of people or other animals. If the bird in this case was not tested, it’s hard to say how long it would have taken for psittacoiss to be considered in the case of the pet store worker.

More information about psittacosis can be found in a document from the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. More information about good management practices to reduce the risk of disease transmission from birds can be found in the information sheets on pet birds on the Worms & Germs Resources page.

Image from: