Chlamydia Psittaci, also known as Parrot Fever, is an intracellular parasite transmitted from infected birds to humans. The disease in humans is known as psittacosis and the disease in birds other than parrots known as ornithosis. The parasite, unable to generate its own energy, obtains energy from the host cell's adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the source of energy for the cell's metabolic activities. In the form of infected bird droppings, the bacteria last roughly 2 days, but in straw, may last up to 20 days. Chlamydia Psittaci can be deactivated by heat, both dry and moist, and disinfectants.
The disease psittacosis was first identified and fully described in 1879 by Dr. J. Ritter when an outbreak occurred in the house of his brothers in Uster, Switzerland. From 13-28 of March, 7 in the household contracted the disease, which Dr. Ritter described as "pneumo-typhus" disease. 3 died of the infection. The Ritter brothers kept parrots and canaries in their home. Dr. Ritter determined that the disease causing agent came from 6 recently acquired small birds (imported from Hamburg 17 February) that showed no signs of sickness. The birds were killed, but dissections of the birds revealed nothing abnormal. There were no secondary infections, and Dr. Ritter noted the lack of contagiousness on a person-to-person basis.
'Psittakos' comes from the Greek word for parrot; parrots and other domestic birds are often asymptomatic carriers of the disease. The name was given to the disease in 1895 by A. Morange, a student in Paris writing a thesis on the 1892 Paris outbreak of the disease.
Until 1930, Chlamydia Psittaci was believed to be a disease that affected mostly large birds. In 1929 and 1930, a shipment of Amazon parrots from Argentina to various destinations around the world began an epidemic of psittacosis in humans and various non-psittacine birds. Roughly 750-800 people were infected by the disease worldwide. Due to this epidemic, the United States banned the importation of birds. US authorities did not lift the ban until 1973.
Chlamydia Psittaci as a Biological Weapons Agent
Psittacosis is labeled by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a Category B biological weapons agent. The weapon can attack the poultry industry, and also human populations in aerosolized form. The United States biological weapons program based in Fort Detrick studied psittacosis as a possible incapacitating agent from World War II through the 1960s. Staring in 1949, outdoor field testing of psittacosis as a possible aerosolized agent began at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The Soviet Union also studied psittacosis in their biological weapons program Biopreparat.
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