warning after spike in humans catching psittacosis from birds
Infections caused by a bacteria carried by wild birds have spiked in Victoria’s Alpine region, prompting a health warning.
Twenty-four cases of psittacosis were reported to Victorian health authorities since September 1 – the highest number of notifications for this time period in eight years.
Ten of those cases were residents of the Alpine local government area, where wild birds are abundant, which is more cases than expected for that region.
Many of them had indirect contact with wild birds through lawn mowing, gardening or other outdoor maintenance.
Psittacosis is a rare type of lung infection (pneumonia) caused by a bacterium, Chlamydia psittaci.
It’s carried by wild birds in feathers, dander, secretions or droppings, which can be inhaled.
Deputy chief health officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen on Wednesday urged people in the Alpine region to avoid close contact with wild birds if possible.
She advised people to use a catcher, wear a dust mask when mowing lawns and wash hands thoroughly after tending pets or wild birds.
People are usually exposed to psittacosis through contact with wild birds, recently purchased pet birds or pet birds kept outside.
The risk is greater for people who keep birds or maintain aviaries in which droppings and feathers can accumulate.
At risks groups include bird owners, pet shop workers, veterinarians, poultry processing workers, zoo workers and taxidermists.
Symptoms including headaches, fever, chills, muscle pains and a dry cough develop one to two weeks after exposure.
Because symptoms of psittacosis can be similar to those caused by COVID-19, authorities also recommend a COVID-19 test.
The condition can be more serious in pregnant women, who should take particular care to avoid contact with birds.
Anyone who develops symptoms should seek medical attention. Antibiotics can be given for treatment.
People should also seek medical attention if pet or caged birds develop signs of a respiratory illness.
Psittacosis numbers can fluctuate seasonally. Wild birds excrete the bacteria when they are stressed, if something in their environment has changed.
Person-to-person transmission is extremely rare.
Psittacosis is a notifiable condition and must be notified by pathology services in Victoria.