If you are suddenly besieged by high fever, chills and a splitting headache, you’ll probably think you have malaria. Or even pneumonia. So might your doctor. Then he might embark upon a whole lot of anti-malarial drugs – even those for resistant malaria. You won’t get better, so he’ll switch over to strong antibiotics. Again, no go. Then you’ll both beat your foreheads in frustration. But, finally, if your physician is perceptive enough, he’ll ask you if you’ve got a bird. You’ll answer in the affirmative. Suddenly, his face will light up with a ‘Eureka’ expression. He’ll have just realised you’re suffering from Psittacosis.
Come again, you say, Psittacosis. It’s a disease that is passed on to man by birds. When parrots and parakeets are the culprits, sorry, carries, Ornithosis, is the word used. Other birds that carry this disease are pigeons and poultry (although it’s quite rare to get the disease from hens). Apart from the symptoms already mentioned, you could get a harsh, dry, intermittent cough and occasionally bring up a little sputum and even blood. There is generalised bodyache and the back and neck muscles could become stiff and painful, so the condition could even be mistaken by doctors for meningitis. Some patients feel tired, listless and depressed and complain of insomnia as well. With such a wide range of possible symptoms it’s easy to see how doctors can be misled. Especially when you consider that there could be even further complications of this illness – including pleurisy with effusion or water in the lungs, inflammation of the heart muscles or myocarditis membrane or pericarditis. The malady could even prove fatal. Actually kissing parrots, not washing your hands after handling birds (and their feeding dishes) before you sit down to lunch, and staying in extremely close proximity to them could make you a victim of psittacosis a week or two after contact, that’s how long the incubation period is. Occasionally, however, you could just get a mild ‘flu-like indisposition which might pass off by itself.
But why take chances? The disease can be diagnosed by getting an x-ray done; this shows a pneumonia-like picture. There is also protein in the urine. But the confirmatory test is a blood culture which reveals the causative bacteria. Otherwise, the overall picture of the disease can be confusing, since Psittacosis could be mistaken for Tuberculosis and Infectious mononucleosis as well as the other conditions listed above. Tetracycline is the best drug for this disease.