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Psittacosis and working with birds

Psittacosis is an uncommon disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydia psittaci. Infection usually spreads to people from birds of the parrot (psittacine) family, such as cockatiels and budgerigars.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has a new factsheet to help manage the risk of working with birds and contracting psittacosis, a bacterium which can also be found in other species, including pigeons and poultry.

People can be infected with psittacosis from breathing in infectious aerosols and dust from dried bird droppings and secretions. The disease causes a respiratory illness which is usually mild, however, some people experience more severe illness that can include pneumonia.

Infected birds may appear healthy with no signs of illness, or they may show signs of mild to severe illness. They shed the bacteria in their droppings and in respiratory and eye secretions. The bacteria can survive in dried droppings and secretions for months.

People who work with birds, including pet store workers, bird breeders, wildlife carers, veterinarians, aviary workers and poultry workers, should be aware of psittacosis and ways to protect against infection. People with personal risk factors, including the elderly, pregnant women, or those with a medical condition or undergoing medical treatment that lowers immunity, are at increased risk.

Prevention measures include the quarantine of newly acquired birds, keeping bird housing clean, managing exposure to potentially infectious dust and aerosols, isolating infected birds, and using personal protective equipment.

Download the factsheet at worksafe.qld.gov.au or call 1300 362 128 for information on managing infectious diseases at work.

Further information

Contact Queensland Health on 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for information on psittacosis and human health. Seek advice from your general practitioner or local public health unit if you have concerns about possible exposure to psittacosis.