New York State Health Department Issues Warning to Public Regarding Potential Spread of Infection from Domestic Birds

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The New York State Department of Health, in conjunction with Seneca and Wayne County Health Departments, has issued a warning for residents who have purchased or been in contact with psittacine birds (parrots, parakeets, macaws, and cockatiels) from the Animal Odyssey Pet Store in Wayne County since April 1, 2006.

Psittacosis is an infectious disease that can be transmitted from an infected bird to humans. Residents who have been exposed to birds at the Animal Odyssey Pet Store in Newark during this time period and who develop fever or respiratory illness should contact their medical provider. Symptoms of psittacosis in humans, which include fever, headache, chills and sometimes pneumonia, may occur one to four weeks after exposure to an infected bird or its droppings. With appropriate medical treatment, mortality among people is rare. However it may cause more severe illness in pregnant women if not properly treated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), psittacosis is a common disease among pet birds. It is in no way connected to the avian flu H5N1 strain now circulating in other parts of the world, primarily among wild waterfowl and domestic poultry. Veterinarians should consider a diagnosis of psittacosis for any lethargic bird, even if the bird does not otherwise appear sick.

An antibiotic, such as tetracycline, is the treatment for psittacosis. In addition, these residents should immediately consult a veterinarian about treating their pet bird for psittacosis.

Both the State Health Department and Seneca and Wayne Health Departments have been investigating a report of possible psittacosis among family members who had exposure to birds recently purchased from the Animal Odyssey Pet Store. One bird has died and another has tested positive for Chlamydophila psittaci, the bacteria that causes psittacosis.

To prevent the spread of psittacosis, the health department suggests the following precautions for bird owners:

-- Clean the cage often so that bird droppings do not accumulate, dry up, and become airborne

-- Common disinfectants such as one percent Lysol or bleach solution (one-half cup bleach per gallon of water) can be used for cleaning

-- If cleaning dried bird droppings, moisten the surface before cleaning. This can be done by using a spray bottle filled with water. Avoid using a forceful spray

-- Use disposable gloves and a protective mask while cleaning the cage, to minimize exposure

-- Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the cage

In birds, the symptoms of psittacosis include poor appetite, ruffled appearance, eye or nose discharge and diarrhea. Occasionally, birds may die from psittacosis. Some birds may shed the organism while exhibiting no symptoms. Veterinarians can diagnose the infection by conducting a special test on a swab of fecal material. Tetracycline is also effective for treating birds.

Source: New York State Health Department

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