May 22, 2024

The World Health Organization speaks of a “significant increase”: parrot disease is on the rise in Europe

Anyone with flu symptoms could have psittacosis.


It has the same symptoms as influenza and can cause pneumonia: In recent months, more people have become ill with avian flu. This is what you should know about the disease.

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  • Cases of psittacosis, also known as ornithosis, are on the rise in Europe.
  • In total, there have been five deaths in the past two months.
  • There are currently no human diseases reported in Switzerland.
  • Ornithosis is transmitted primarily through contact with birds.
  • Transmission from person to person is unlikely.

In recent months, there has been an increase in cases of psittacosis, also known as ornidosis, in Europe. Although cases are still at a low level, the increase is much greater. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported that an increase in cases of ornithosis in humans was reported not only in Germany, but also in Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden during the same period.

There are currently no signs that the disease is spreading through humans. “In general, the probability of person-to-person transmission is very low,” the RKI wrote in its report.

The World Health Organization also speaks of a “significant increase” that is said to be “unusual” and “unexpected.”

In Denmark, a total of 23 confirmed cases were reported from the end of December to February 27, and there were four deaths. In the Netherlands, from the end of December until February 29, 21 new infections were recorded and one person died due to parrot disease.

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What is the situation in Switzerland?

There are currently no known cases in humans. However, nine cases of parrots, pigeons and macaws have been recorded in Switzerland since the beginning of 2023. “20 minutes” He writes. There has been no increase in cases over the past two years.

Reportable or not?

In Germany, parrot disease must be reported, but not in this country. It is possible that there are already cases in Switzerland, but these cases are not known. “If the laboratory detects an infection, this result must be reported as an exceptional laboratory result,” explains the press spokesperson for the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG). “Scenery”.

Unlike humans, suspected cases can already be reported in animals. Owners should contact their livestock veterinarian.

Where does the disease come from?

This disease is caused by the bacteria Chlamydophila psittaci. Ornithosis is an infectious disease transmitted by birds.

“Parrots, parakeets, pigeons, and, in the case of commercial poultry, turkeys in particular,” are typically affected in this way. bag Indicates. But sheep, cows, pigs, cats, amphibians and reptiles can also become infected with the bacteria.

Pigeons can also be infected with psittacosis.
Pigeons can also be infected with psittacosis.

Kirsten Neumann/DPA-tmn

In birds, according to BAG, the disease manifests itself in swelling of feathers, emaciation, conjunctivitis, inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, and discharge from the eyes and nose. Light green stool and diarrhea are often observed. If animals become infected, the mortality rate is very high.

How do I know if I am sick?

Symptoms in humans are usually similar to influenza symptoms. Patients often complain of fever, chills, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, cough, or loss of appetite. Symptoms usually appear one to two weeks after infection.

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Flu-like symptoms can develop into a more serious course of the disease – and pneumonia can occur. If the disease is caught early, antibiotic treatment can provide a cure.

In some people, the disease can also be “asymptomatic,” BAG reports. How ornithosis appears in humans also depends on the age or general health of the infected person.

How is the disease transmitted?

As a rule, psittacosis is transmitted from animals to humans. This occurs “through contact with the feces of infected animals” or “inhalation of contaminated dust,” as the BAG website explains.

Employees in poultry shops, aviculture or poultry slaughterhouses as well as people working in bird feather processing are particularly at risk. But bird owners or people in general who have close contact with birds are also more at risk.

How serious is the disease?

The current classification by the World Health Organization is considered low. Psittacosis currently does not pose a significant health risk to humans.

However, avian diseases, infections and their development are still increasingly observed and studied.

It is important that the disease is recognized and treated in a timely manner. If those affected go through a severe course of the disease, recovery may take a long time.

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