Imagine a scene like this: The father arrives from his overseas travels bringing home a beautiful parrot in a gold-gilded cage. Maybe the parrot can scream “hello” and everyone in the family is delighted. 

But after a few days, a member of the family is suddenly sick with a rare case of pneumonia. And then another member falls ill. And then another just feels frequent headaches and backaches. Some members experience chills or constipation. In worst cases, a family member exhibits delirium, insomnia, anorexia and photophobia. This last one literally means “fear of light”.

Laboratory tests in the hospital show that the disease is called ornithosis and it is caused by Microbacterium multiforme psittacosis, a virus that is widely distributed among parrots, parakeets, parrotlets, cockatoos, and other related species. Some pigeons and doves have this virus, too. The virus attacks several organs at once. And this is why the symptoms seemed so varied and the illness of one may not be related to the illness of the other.

dog & bird

Any person may get infected by this virus by visiting bird-breeding establishments or pet shops, or by acquiring pet birds, especially exotic ones, that have no health certificates or health clearance. Middle-aged people are easily susceptible to the virus, while most children seemed to be immune.

Some birds carrying this virus may appear healthy. But they are able to spread the virus by shedding their feathers, and anyone (bird or human) coming into contact with the virus-harboring feathers, may acquire the virus.

There are ways, however, of spotting a sick bird, and consequently avoiding the disease. Sick birds exhibit characteristic behavior and appearance. They appear very sleepy, keeping their eyes closed or semi-closed most of the time. They stay motionless on the perch for long periods of time and sometimes they have fits of shivering. Their feathers are ruffled and their breathing is labored and these are not because they just finished a fight. Sick birds also lose weight and experience diarrhea. The stool has a greenish tint.

To help prevent the spread of this disease, the government has laws against having exotic and rare birds for cage pets. Birds, and other animals for that matter, when traveling, particularly by plane or ship, from one place to another must be quarantined and isolated for lab testing. In zoos, warning signs are posted to not come too close to birds. But these measures, in some ways, are still inadequate in our country.

cat & bird

Birds and humans who recovered from ornithosis are found to have produced neutralizing antibodies.