About Psittacosis

Key points

  • Psittacosis is a disease caused by bacteria that often infect birds.
  • People who have contact with pet birds and poultry are at increased risk.
  • Psittacosis is usually a mild illness.
  • Be safe when handling and cleaning birds and cages to help prevent this disease.
Parakeets sitting in a cage

What it is

Psittacosis is a disease caused by bacteria called Chlamydia psittaci. These bacteria infect birds more often than people.

Up until recently, scientists called the bacteria Chlamydophila psittaci.

Illustration of Chlamydia psittaci bacteria
This image of Chlamydia psittaci is computer generated.


Most people begin developing signs and symptoms within 5 to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria. Less commonly, people report symptoms starting after 14 days.

In general, psittacosis is a mild illness. Symptoms of psittacosis are similar to the symptoms of other respiratory illnesses.

The most common symptoms include:

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

When to contact a healthcare provider‎

See a healthcare provider if you get sick after buying or handling a pet bird or poultry.


Most people treated properly for psittacosis make a full recovery. However, some people have serious complications and need care in a hospital.

Complications include:

  • Pneumonia (lung infection)
  • Endocarditis (inflammation of the heart valves)
  • Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
  • Inflammation of the nerves or brain, leading to neurologic problems

With appropriate antibiotic treatment, psittacosis rarely (less than 1 in 100 cases) results in death.

Risk factors

Some people are more likely to get infected with C. psittaci than others.


People of all ages can get psittacosis, but it is more commonly reported among adults.

Bird exposure

People who have contact with pet birds and poultry, including those who work in bird-related occupations, are at increased risk:

  • Aviary and pet shop employees
  • Bird owners
  • Poultry workers
  • Veterinarians

Parrot fever? These bacteria infect many types of birds‎

Some people refer to psittacosis as parrot disease or parrot fever, but the bacteria infect many types of birds. Psittacosis in people is most commonly associated with pet birds, like parrots and cockatiels, and poultry, like turkeys, chickens, and ducks.

How it spreads

The most common way someone gets infected is by breathing in dust containing dried bird secretions.

Both sick birds and infected birds without signs of illness shed the bacteria in their droppings and respiratory secretions. When the droppings and secretions dry, small dust particles (that include the bacteria) can get into the air.

Less commonly, birds infect people through bites and beak-to-mouth contact.

In general, people don't spread the bacteria that cause psittacosis to other people. However, this may be possible in rare cases.

Bacteria aren't spread through food‎

There's no evidence that the bacteria spread by preparing or eating poultry.


There are things people can do to protect themselves and others from psittacosis.

Testing and diagnosis

Psittacosis is difficult to diagnose. Healthcare providers may not suspect psittacosis because its symptoms are like the symptoms for many other respiratory diseases.

If a healthcare provider suspects psittacosis, they may collect one of the following samples to send for testing:

  • Sputum (phlegm or spit)
  • Swab from the nose or throat
  • Blood

However, tests to see if someone has psittacosis aren't always easily available.

Treatment and recovery

People diagnosed with psittacosis usually take antibiotics to treat the infection. Most people improve quickly if they start antibiotics soon after they get sick.