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Culture

Culture is used to detect the Chlamydia organism itself, and is one of the most accurate methods of making an accurate diagnosis. It is time consuming, requires special techniques and laboratories, and since shedding of the bacteria can be intermittent, samples need to be collected for several days. Also, it can take up to several weeks before the result is available, which defeats the purpose of the test for many ill birds. Unfortunately, the laboratories that perform this culture are not readily available to us.

Psittacosis tests

Psittacosis tests have been developed to aid us in our diagnosis. No test is perfect or applies to every situation and species. In some cases we will perform several of these tests to increase accuracy:
  • Antibody TestsThese tests check for antibodies made by the immune system when it is exposed to the Chlamydia organism. Birds that are stressed, in poor nutritional state, or have other diseases, might not produce antibodies at all. Also, it is possible for these tests to be negative early in the course of the disease when the immune system has not had enough time to produce antibodies.
    • EBA- Elementary Body Agglutination checks the antibody called IgM (immunoglobulin M), which is found early in the course of the disease. As a result, it is used as a screening tool for healthy birds or if a bird is suspected to be early in the course of the disease. A positive result does not easily differentiate a bird that actively has the disease from a bird that has been exposed in the past and is currently not ill. It only requires a small amount of blood in relation to other blood tests.IFA- Immunofluorescent Antibody checks for IgG (immunoglobulin G) that builds up in the bloodstream later in the course of the disease. It gives a better long term perspective as a result.
  • Antigen TestsThese tests check for the shedding of the Chlamydia organism in the feces. Viable Chlamydia are not needed for a positive diagnosis since they test for antigen or DNA of Chlamydia.
    • ELISA-Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay is used on ill birds. It was originally developed to detect human Chlamydia. Like the culture, samples should be taken over several days to increase the chance of finding the problem in intermittent shedders. It is an easy test to administer and can be performed as an outpatient basis with immediate results. False negatives and false positives can occur. a bird with a negative on this test still could have Psittacosis. A bird with a positive on this test might have Psittacosis.PCR- Polymerase Chain reaction is another antigen test. It has great promise and might become the test of choice in the future.


Autopsy (Necropsy)

Unfortunately, Psittacosis is sometimes accurately diagnosed only at necropsy.
This dark red organ is the enlarged spleen of a bird that died of Psittacosis.


This air sac is cloudy, an indication of an infection. Psittacosis could be a cause of this.


Treatment

Birds that are suspected of having Psittacosis are immediately isolated. Protective clothing should be worn at all times when treating these suspects. Routine surgical masks might not be adequate to prevent exposure.
Birds that are weak, losing weight, or not eating need supportive care. This consists of  fluids and supplemental feeding. We will frequently hospitalize them until they regain their strength. The mainstay of treatment is with the tetracyclines.
There are several different methods to get this medication into a birds system in order to achieve adequate blood levels.
  • Medicated FeedMedicated foods can be purchased or made up that contain 1% chlortetracycline (CTC). These need to be fed for 45 days. Acceptance is variable, so monitoring of food consumption is imperative. Calcium should not be greater than >7% in this diet because it can interfere with the tetracycline.
  • Oral DoxycyclineThis is the drug of choice for oral treatment. It is also used for 45 days, and is given to birds that are cooperative.
  • Injectable DoxycyclineThis drug, also know as Vibravenous, is given once every 5-7 days. Treatment is given for at least 6 weeks. Irritation can occur at the injection site, so it must be given under the direction of a veterinarian.


Prevention

Do not purchase a bird that seems ill or you suspect has been brought into this country illegally. New birds should be examined, tested, and quarantined for at least 45 days. During this 45 days these new birds can be treated also.
People with compromised immune systems should not be exposed to birds that might have Psittacosis. Gloves, masks, and protective clothing should be used when cleaning cages and working around birds suspected of this disease.
Clean cages and feeding bowls frequently, and set up housing so droppings, food, and feathers do not contaminate other cages.
Chlamydia psittaci is susceptible to routine disinfectants. Common ones include Lysol, bleach, 70% isopropyl alcohol, and Roccal.