Psittacosis: what is “parrot fever”, this respiratory disease which has caused at least 5 deaths in Europe ?

Psittacosis: what is “parrot fever”, this respiratory disease which has caused at least 5 deaths in Europe ?

L'Organisation mondiale de la Santé (OMS) alerte sur le nombre croissant de cas de psittacose et surveille la situation (photo d'illustration). REMY GABALDA – MAXPPP

In Europe, five countries have reported an unusual and unexpected increase in cases of psittacosis, a respiratory illness also known as “parrot fever”. The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of the growing number of cases and is monitoring the situation.

In February 2024, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands reported, via the Early Warning and Response System reaction (EWRS) of the European Union, an increase in cases of psittacosis observed in 2023 and at the beginning of 2024, particularly marked since November-December 2023, reports the website of the European Union ;World Health Organization (WHO). Five deaths were also reported.

Respiratory infection

Exposure to wild and/or domestic birds has been reported in most cases. Psittacosis is a respiratory infection caused by Chlamydophila psittaci (C. psittaci), a bacteria that infects often birds. Human infections occur primarily through contact with the secretions of infected birds and are most associated with people who work with pet birds, poultry workers, veterinarians, pet bird owners and to gardeners in regions where C. psittaci is epizootic in the native bird population, underlines the WHO.

Epidemiological investigations

Relevant countries have implemented epidemiological investigations to identify potential exposures and clusters of cases.

The World Health Organization continues to monitor the situation and, based on available information, considers the risk posed by this event to be low.  

What are the symptoms ?

Transmission of the disease to humans occurs mainly through inhalation of airborne particles from respiratory secretions, dried feces or feather dust. Direct contact with birds is not necessary for infection to occur, according to the WHO.

In general, psittacosis is a mild illness, the symptoms of which include fever and chills, headache, muscle pain, and dry cough. Most people begin to develop signs and symptoms within 5 to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Processing ?

Rapid antibiotic treatment is effective and helps prevent complications such as pneumonia. Still according to the World Health Organization, with appropriate antibiotic treatment, psittacosis rarely leads to death (less than 1 in 100 cases).

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