Pet Birds Purchased in Washington State Recently May Pose Health Risk to People

OLYMPIA, Wash. Washington state health officials are warning that some recently purchased cockatiels or other pet birds may pose a health risk to people who are exposed to them. Some birds shipped by a national distributor tested positive for avian chlamydiosis, and about 20 PetSmart stores in 11 Washington counties have received birds from this vendor. So far, there have been no reports of people in our state contracting the human form of the disease, called psittacosis.

The pet store chain has voluntarily removed all birds supplied by the wholesale vendor and is treating its sick and exposed birds with antibiotics. Employees of each store were notified and instructed in proper cleanup and handling of the birds. Customers who bought birds from these stores since October are getting letters about avian chlamydiosis and psittacosis.

Avian chlamydiosis is a disease of birds caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila psittaci. It is frequently found in birds but it doesnt always cause the bird to become ill. Sick birds often are lethargic, dont eat, loose weight, have thick discharges from eyes or nose, and diarrhea. Birds most frequently infected are psittacine species such as cockatiels, cockatoos, parrots and parakeets. Owners can have birds tested and treated with antibiotics by a veterinarian.

The bacterium can be passed from birds to people when dust from dried bird droppings or respiratory secretions are inhaled. People who are infected with the bacterium and develop psittacosis typically have a fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a cough. These symptoms usually develop 5 to 19 days after exposure. While the disease is often mild, it can be serious if not recognized and treated. Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat infection. Anyone who develops these symptoms and has been near pet birds should contact their medical doctor.

To prevent the spread of psittacosis, birdcages should be cleaned often to avoid waste build-up. A non-dusty litter such as newspaper should be placed under the wire mesh and changed daily. Water and food bowls should be emptied and rinsed daily. When bars or perches must be clean they should be washed using a disinfectant and rinsed thoroughly. Wet-mopping floors and countertops near cages will help avoid circulating dust and feathers.

In Washington, the 11 counties where PetSmart stores received these birds include Benton, Clark, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom and Yakima.

Source: Washington State Department of Health