Psittacosis is an infection caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia psittaci . This infection causes fever, chills, dry coughing, headache, muscle aches, and sometimes pneumonia .

Bacteria as Seen Through Microscope

© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


Humans get psittacosis from certain birds, including:

  • Parrots
  • Macaws
  • Cockatiels
  • Parakeets
  • Turkeys
  • Pigeons

Some infected birds have symptoms, such as losing feathers, runny noses, runny eyes, change in eating habits, and diarrhea. Other birds appear well, but can still spread the infection to humans. People usually become infected from breathing in dust from the dried droppings or secretions of birds that are sick. The infection can also spread when a person touches his or her mouth to the beak of an infected bird. Even brief exposure to sick birds can lead to psittacosis. The infection rarely spreads from one person to another.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

Risk factors for psittacosis include:

  • Owning a pet bird
  • Occupations with exposure to birds, including:
    • Veterinarian
    • Zoo worker
    • Laboratory worker
    • Farmer
    • Poultry plant worker


The symptoms of psittacosis begin one to four weeks after exposure to a sick bird. Symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Pneumonia with severe breathing problems


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests—tests to check for the bacterium that causes psittacosis
  • Chest x-ray —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body; can be used to look for pneumonia


The main treatment for psittacosis is antibiotics, which you should continue taking for 10 to 14 days after the fever is gone. If you have severe breathing problems, you may need to be hospitalized for oxygen and intravenous antibiotics.


You can take several steps to prevent psittacosis, including:

  • Avoid birds that appear to be sick.
  • Keep your mouth away from a bird’s beak.
  • Buy pet birds from a dealer with an exotic bird permit.
  • If you have two or more birds, keep their cages apart.
  • Keep new birds away from other birds for 4-6 weeks.
  • Clean bird cages, food bowls, and water bowls every day. Disinfect them once a week with bleach or rubbing alcohol.
  • If your bird appears to be sick, take it to a veterinarian promptly.