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Multistate Psittacosis Outbreak among Poultry Plant Workers, 2018

At a Glance

Laboratory confirmed* cases: 13

States affected: Georgia, Virginia

Deaths: 0

*Includes Chlamydia psittaci detected by PCR in lower respiratory tract specimen, nasopharyngeal specimen, or stool specimen

Posted September 19, 2018 at 6:30 PM ET
The Virginia and Georgia departments of health are investigating a multistate outbreak of psittacosis occurring at two poultry slaughter plants owned by a single corporation. CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are assisting with the investigation.

Recommendations

  • Contact a healthcare professional if you have fever, cough, headache, or muscle aches after working at a poultry slaughter plant involved in the outbreak. Tell your healthcare professional that you may have been exposed to psittacosis. Healthcare professionals can treat psittacosis with antibiotics.
  • Plant management should implement steps to minimize exposures to bird droppings and respiratory secretions to protect their workers.
  • Learn how people who work in poultry slaughter plants can prevent psittacosis.

Latest Outbreak Information

  • During August–October 2018, psittacosis cases were reported among workers at two poultry slaughter plants in Virginia and Georgia. A single corporation owns both plants.
  • Chlamydia psittaci, the type of bacteria that causes psittacosis, was detected by a laboratory test in 13 people. Additional illnesses in workers at the two plants have been identified, although have not been confirmed by the laboratory.  The Virginia and Georgia departments of health may report all cases, making their case counts higher than what CDC reports (i.e., CDC is only reporting laboratory-confirmed cases).
  • No deaths have been reported.
  • Virginia and Georgia departments of health are conducting an investigation, and the number of cases is likely to change.
  • Current evidence indicates that all of the people who have psittacosis work at poultry slaughter plants in two states: Virginia and Georgia. Investigators are still working to understand why the outbreak occurred.
  • The affected plants in Virginia and Georgia voluntarily suspended operations for cleaning.
    • On September 8, 2018, the affected plant in Virginia suspended operations. The plant reopened on September 18, 2018.
    • On September 15, 2018, the affected plant in Georgia suspended operations. The plant reopened on September 19, 2018.
  • Plant management held town hall meetings in both plants to inform their workers about the outbreak.
  • CDC will provide updates when more information is available.

How You Can and Cannot Get Psittacosis

The latest data suggest that this outbreak is only affecting people who work at the identified poultry slaughter plants. Public health officials are investigating whether other people exposed to chickens (e.g., farmers, truck drivers) that were shipped to the affected plants got sick. At this time, investigators do not believe people working outside of this industry or consumers are at risk.

The most common way someone gets infected with the bacteria that cause psittacosis (Chlamydia psittaci) is by breathing in dust containing dried secretions (e.g., droppings, respiratory) from infected birds. There is no evidence that these bacteria can spread by preparing or eating chicken meat.

It is rare for psittacosis to spread from person to person. In this outbreak, infection among family members who are not workers at the affected plants has not been reported.

Symptoms of Psittacosis in People

In general, psittacosis causes mild illness in people. The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Dry cough

Psittacosis can also cause pneumonia (a lung infection) that may require treatment or care in a hospital. Rarely, psittacosis can result in death.

Most people begin developing signs and symptoms of psittacosis within 5 to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria (C. psittaci). Occasionally, people report the start of symptoms after more than 14 days.

Investigation Details

September 19, 2018

The Virginia and Georgia departments of health are investigating a multistate outbreak of psittacosis occurring at two poultry slaughter plants owned by a single corporation. CDC and USDA are assisting with the investigation.

CDC is working with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to identify other similar plants.

If you become aware of poultry workers with X-ray confirmed or clinician-diagnosed pneumonia or suspected psittacosis, please contact your local health department. CDC can perform confirmatory laboratory testing. Lower respiratory tract specimens (e.g., sputum) are ideal. CDC will also accept other specimen types (e.g., nasopharyngeal/oropharyngeal swabs, whole blood, stool) for this investigation.

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