Hong Kong health officials have reported investigating two linked cases of psittacosis, or parrot fever, a bird-borne disease.

Thick-billed Parrot Image/Ltshears
Thick-billed Parrot

The first case involves a 51-year-old woman with good past health, who developed fever, cough, shortness of breath and malaise since late January. She was admitted to Ruttonjee Hospital on February 11 and was transferred to the intensive care unit for further management on the next day. Her condition subsequently improved and she was transferred back to the general medical ward yesterday. She is now in a serious condition.

The second case involves a 54-year-old man with good past health, who is the husband of the first patient. He developed fever, headache and muscle pain since February 4. He was admitted to Ruttonjee Hospital on February 12 and his condition has been stable all along.

The couple’s respiratory samples both tested positive for Chlamydophila psittaci upon laboratory testing.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health’s preliminary investigation revealed that the pair had no recent travel history. However, they reported having visited the Bird Garden in Yuen Po Street, Mong Kok, twice last month and had purchased a parrot from a bird shop there. The home contacts of the pair remain asymptomatic so far. Officers of the CHP and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department visited the patients’ home and the bird shop. Investigations are ongoing.

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Psittacosis is a disease caused by bacteria called Chlamydophila psittaci. It is usually transmitted by inhaling the agent from dried droppings or secretions of infected birds.

Patients with psittacosis usually present fever, headache, rash, muscle pain, chills and dry cough. Pneumonia may sometimes occur, and occasional complications include encephalitis, myocarditis and thrombophlebitis.

The disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics. The disease is not normally transmitted from person to person.

To prevent psittacosis, people are advised to take the following measures:

  • Maintain good personal and environmental hygiene;
  • Wear gloves and a surgical mask when handling droppings or secretions of birds;
  • Wash hands thoroughly after handling birds;
  • Avoid close contact with birds;
  • Disinfect bird cages and surfaces contaminated by bird droppings or secretions; and
  • Seek medical treatment if symptoms develop.