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'Parrot Fever' Outbreak in Europe Has Resulted in 5 Deaths

Human infections of the respiratory disease, which is caused by a bacteria in the Chlamydia family, occur through exposure to infected birds and poultry

<p>Getty</p> A stock image of a parrot

Getty

A stock image of a parrot

Cases of a rare bacterial infection called psittacosis — also known as parrot fever — are on the rise in Europe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO said in a statement earlier this week that five deaths have been reported amid the outbreak, which was initially observed last year and has spread to several European countries including Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and The Netherlands.

Parrot fever is a respiratory infection caused by a bacteria in the Chlamydia family that infects both wild and pet birds. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), human transmission of the disease occurs mainly by breathing in dust particles from the dry droppings and secretions of infected birds.

Less commonly, birds can infect people via bites and beak-to-mouth contact. Human-to-human transmission is possible but rare, the CDC says, and there is no evidence that the bacteria that causes parrot fever is spread by preparing or eating poultry.

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Those most at risk of contracting parrot fever are people who work and come into contact with birds and poultry including pet owners, poultry workers and veterinarians, as well as aviary and pet shop owners. In most of the parrot fever cases that have been documented since 2023, exposure to wild and/or domestic birds was reported, the WHO said.

Symptoms of parrot fever include fever and chills, headache, muscle aches and a dry cough, according to the CDC. Most infected people begin experiencing symptoms within five to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Patients with parrot fever are treated with antibiotics and typically make a full recovery. However, some people can experience more severe complications that require hospital care, including pneumonia, endocarditis, hepatitis and inflammation of the nerves or the brain resulting in neurologic problems.

Parrot fever rarely results in death (fewer than 1 in 100 cases), the CDC says.

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According to the WHO, the affected European countries are undertaking epidemiological investigations to identify potential exposures and clusters of cases. Austria, which typically sees about two cases of parrot fever per year, reported 14 cases in 2023 and an additional four cases in 2023, as of March 4.

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In Denmark, 23 people tested positive for psittacosis as of Feb. 27, 15 of whom developed pneumonia and four of whom died. Germany had 19 confirmed cases between January 2023 and Feb. 19, 2024.

Sweden, meanwhile, reported an usually high number of cases — 26 — in late November and early December. Thirteen cases have been reported in the country this year. The Netherlands saw twice as many cases between late December and late February as the same period in previous years, the WHO said.

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