OSHA Hazard Information Bulletins
Contracting Occupationally Related Psittacosis1

August 8, 1994

Acting Director
Directorate of Technical Support
Hazard Information Bulletin on Contracting Occupationally Related Psittacosis1

The Directorate of Compliance Programs informed us that a number of inquiries were received concerning the hazard of psittacosis. This bulletin provides information concerning the hazard of occupational exposure to psittacosis that may be found in pet shops, quarantine facilities, and the poultry processing industry.

Psittacosis is caused by a bacterium, Chlamydia psittaci, which is transmitted to humans from birds. "Psittacine" birds, like parrots and parakeets, are classically responsible, although pigeons, chickens, and turkeys may carry the disease as well. An infected bird may appear to have red, watery eyes, nasal discharge, diarrhea, and a poor appetite. After a bird recovers from infection, the bacteria may remain in its blood, feathers, and droppings for many weeks.

Humans may acquire psittacosis by inhaling infected particles from bird droppings. Symptoms begin one to three weeks after exposure, and usually include headache, fever, and cough. A "flu-like" syndrome of nausea/vomiting, joint aches, and muscle aches is also common. Severe infection may develop into pneumonia that requires hospitalization. Psittacosis is treated with common antibiotics (doxycycline or erythromycin), though recovery may take several weeks. Sustained immunity to infection does not develop; some people have been reported to get the disease more than once. Less than 1% of all cases are fatal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations require that imported psittacine birds be quarantined for 30 days. The birds may be fed chlortetracycline to prevent transmission of the disease to birds and to humans in quarantine stations. The bacteria, however, continue to be found in released birds. Additionally, workers handle many birds which are not imported, rather they are bred in this country and, therefore, are not subject to the USDA's medication requirements.

OSHA does not have a standard specific to the hazard of psittacosis. However, a number of OSHA standards and good industrial hygiene practices apply. Precautions to protect workers from contracting this disease through inhalation include at minimum the following:

  • Providing respiratory protection suitable for the purpose intended (HEPA filter) and establishing a respirator program.
  • Assuring adequate ventilation in the work area.
  • Establishing a psittacosis training and prevention program which includes:
    • A description of the signs and the symptoms associated with the psittacosis disease;
    • Instructions on how to recognize psittacosis in affected avian species; and
    • Good housekeeping and work practices procedures.
    • Instructing workers to immediately report to the employer any indications that a bird may be infected.
    • Instructing workers to immediately report to the employer the development of any adverse signs and symptoms consistent with psittacosis.

In addition to the above minimum precautions, confirmed work related cases of psittacosis must be recorded in the OSHA-200 log, and reported to State health departments and the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Please distribute this bulletin to all Area Offices, State Plan States, Consultation Project Managers and appropriate labor and trade associations.

1 The Directorate of Technical Support issues Hazard Information Bulletins (HIB) in accordance with OSHA Instruction CPL 2.65 to provide relevant information regarding unrecognized or misunderstood health hazards, inadequacies of materials, devices, techniques, and safety engineering controls. HIBs are initiated based on information provided by the field staff, studies, reports and concerns expressed by safety and health professionals, employers, and the public. Bulletins are developed based on a thorough evaluation of available facts, and in coordination with appropriate parties.