Psittacosis is a zoonotic disease and can be fatal in birds and people, and is something every bird owner should be knowledgeable of.
Health officials in Georgia, Minnesota and Washington reported a possible psittacosis, also known as avian chlamydiophilosis (a zoonotic infectious disease caused by the bacterium Chlamydiophila psittaci), outbreak in cockatiels at three national pet store chains, including some Petsmart stores, a single Petland store and a Superpetz.
Petsmart reported that it temporarily suspended bird sales at some locations after random testing revealed some cockatiels had the disease. Petsmart said all of the infected birds came from the same vendor, and it believes the birds were exposed to the bacteria prior to their arrival to its stores.
"A small percentage of cockatiels tested positive for being exposed or infected with psittacosis," Petsmart said. "As a precautionary measure, we have voluntarily and temporarily suspended sales of birds at all of our stores supplied by this vendor while we preventatively treat them."
Neither Superpetz nor Petland immediately issued statements.
Efforts to contact the stores’ corporate offices have not yet been successful. Some are closed due to the holidays.
Although Petsmart did not specify which of its stores were affected, health officials in Washington, Minnesota and Georgia said some of its pet stores might have received cockatiels from the suspected supplier.
Georgia’s Department of Agriculture said last Friday, December 28, 2007, that it quarantined all Petsmart stores in the state and a Superpetz store in Martinez, Ga., due to psittacosis.
“We have had two confirmed cases of psittacosis at Petsmart stores in Hiram and Woodstock,” said Commissioner of Agriculture, Tommy Irvin.
Psittacosis was also found at the dealer – Preferred Birds of Milton, Fla., – who supplied the infected birds to the pet stores, Irvin said.
“Petsmart had already begun a quarantine, but the quarantine did not meet all state requirements,” Irvin said. “We are requiring Petsmart and Superpetz to move the birds away from the public and to begin using medicated feed to treat the birds.”
The quarantine, which applies only to birds and not other animals, will last 45 days or until the state veterinarian approves its release, Irvin said.
The Washington State Health Department said about 20 Petsmart stores in its state received birds from a “national distributor” where the cockatiels with psittacosis may have originated. The department says the stores are spread among 11 Washington counties: Benton, Clark, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom and Yakima.
“There have been no reports of people in our state contracting the human form of the disease,” the health department said.
In Minnesota, officials from the Department of Health said “the birds may be infected with the bacterium that causes this illness if they were purchased from Petland Shakopee since it opened on November 10, or from Minnesota Petsmart stores since October 1.” It is also “investigating illnesses in pet store workers to see if they have psittacosis,” although it said, to date, no customers who purchased their birds at the stores have reported to have been ill.
Minnesota officials are asking anyone who purchased birds from one of the affected stores that is also exhibiting psittacosis symptoms to call 651-201-5414 during normal business hours.
The day after Christmas, Petsmart issued a letter to anyone who may have purchased a cockatiel or other bird from an affected store on or after Oct. 3, 2007, warning them of the potential for exposure to the zoonotic disease. In some cases, this disease can prove fatal in both parrots and humans but is generally treatable by a dose of antibiotics.
"While we don't believe there is any cause for alarm, we want you to be aware of this possibility," David Kless, the Pet Care Operations manager, wrote.
Petsmart provided a fact sheet on the disease to customers who may have purchased an affected bird. The fact sheet is also available on its website.
In humans, psittacosis can affect the respiratory system causing flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headaches, nausea and fatigue. Infected birds might appear depressed or lethargic. They might eat and groom less or exhibit nasal discharge, breathing difficulties, and diarrhea or weight loss. It spreads when a person or bird inhales or ingests contaminated fecal dust or matter. Symptoms can appear within a few days or a few weeks after exposure to the bacteria.
Treatment for a large flock often includes adding a water-soluble version of the antibiotic doxycycline to the birds' water dishes and possibly administering an anti-fungal to handle secondary infections. Medicated food, such as seed, can also be used. A single bird might receive a daily oral version of the drug or weekly injection by its veterinarian.
In its letter to customers, Petsmart encouraged new bird owners to seek veterinary advice if their bird was exhibiting any signs of psittacosis. It also offered compensation under some circumstances.
"If your veterinarian feels it necessary to test your bird for psittacosis, our corporate veterinarians will review your bird's health records and are authorized to reimburse you reasonable and customary fees associated with testing and treatment of psittacosis," Kless wrote.
Petsmart customers with concerns may contact its customer service line at 800-738-1385, ext. 2518.