A survey of birds arriving at an Australian veterinary clinic shows that a large number of them carry chlamydia, including strains never seen before in Australia
January 31, 2022
Through Alice Klein
Almost a third of hospitalized Australian birds are carriers of chlamydia, including some new strains of infection. The discovery raises concerns about possible spread to other animals, including humans.
Human chlamydia are caused by an infection with so-called bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Birds can be infected with a similar strain called Chlamydia psittaci which causes a flu-like illness and can spread to people who have close contact with birds.
C. psittaci has been identified in more than 460 bird species worldwide, but little is known about the prevalence of chlamydia in Australian birds.
To investigate this, Martina Jelocnik of the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, and her colleagues tested 564 birds from 107 species admitted to a wildlife hospital in Beerwah, Queensland.
Most of the birds were admitted because they had been hit by cars or attacked by cats or dogs. About a quarter were brought in because they looked unwell.
Overall, 29 percent of the birds, including kookaburras, cockatoos and lorikeets, tested positive for chlamydia. Some were infected with C. psittaci, some with chlamydia like cattle – a strain that typically affects koalas, and none in humans Ctrachomatis. Three tribes not seen before in Australia – chlamydia cancellation, chlamydia ibid and chlamydia lung infection – have also been detected in birds.
There are already some reports C. psittaci Dispersal from Australian birds to humans. In one case, 16 people in the town of Bright, Victoria contracted the bacteria from exposure to bird droppings while gardening and one died. In another case, a museum worker in South Australia ended up in intensive care with pneumonia after catching the disease while dissecting an infected Rosella parrot.
At this point, it’s unclear whether the three discovered Chlamydia strains newly introduced to Australia could infect humans or what the health consequences might be, Jelocnik says. “We’re really just scratching the surface,” she says.
Because of this, Australian birds should be monitored more closely, and people handling them should wear gloves and other protective gear to avoid potentially dangerous spillover events, Jelocnik says.
“We have a big task ahead of us – besides birds, we should also look at other potential hosts like Australian wildlife and farm animals, because we all share the same habitat, so there is a risk of cross-transmission,” she says.
Magazine reference: Transboundary and emerging diseases, DOI: 10.1111/tbed.14457