Lethal bacteria outbreak reported in area lovebirds - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Lethal bacteria outbreak reported in area lovebirds

July 23rd, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Lethal bacteria outbreak reported in area lovebirds
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Geri Koeppel
Contributor

Area residents are urged to keep an eye out for dead lovebirds in their yards and be careful about handling them or being near their waste after the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) confirmed a recent outbreak of a bacteria that can spread to humans.

Judi Drake of Ahwatukee began seeing the birds dying in late May and eventually reported 22 dead lovebirds in all to AZGFD. “I lost one a day for three solid weeks,” she said. Prior to that, she said, she frequently saw about 40 lovebirds a day in her yard.

Posts on a neighborhood Facebook page also reported dead lovebird sightings at 48th Street and Chandler Boulevard, on Knox Road and off of the Warner-Elliot Loop.

Drake delivered one of the dead birds to the Mesa office of AZGFD in late June. Anne Justice-Allen, wildlife veterinarian for AZGFD, confirmed that a PCR test that checks for DNA confirmed the bird had avian chlamydiosis, or parrot fever, caused by the bacteria Chlamydia psittaci.

The bacteria can spread to humans through inhaling dried droppings or secretions from infected birds. In people, the disease is called psittacosis, which can present as flu-like symptoms, eye irritation or conjunctivitis—and in severe cases, pneumonia.

“If people are cleaning up the bird feeders or cleaning up the patio where lovebirds were around, wear a mask and gloves, and don’t use a leaf blower,” Justice-Allen said.

Even though Drake wore gloves and handled the birds carefully, “I started getting sick and I didn’t know what it was,” she said. “I thought it was COVID and I took three tests; no COVID. My fevers were running 104.4, 103.9.… chills, sweats, cough. I found out I had pneumonia that was pretty extensive on my left side.”

She was treated with antibiotics and is recovering, but said she was “out of it” for about a week.

Contrary to information on Facebook, “People don’t need to take the feeders down unless they’re starting to see birds dying,” Justice-Allen said.

If you see dead lovebirds in your yard, remove the feeders, clean them with soap and water, and rinse them with diluted bleach water to disinfect them. The ratio is one part bleach to 30 parts water, which is about one ounce per quart or five ounces per gallon.

“It’s usually fairly local when we start seeing mortality in a given area,” Justice-Allen said. “It’s spread by direct bird-to-bird contact, which is why feeders are problematic.”

Outbreaks also depend on variables such as temperature, density of the flock and movement, she said.

A report co-written by Justice-Allen on the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) website details a case of a parrot fever outbreak and instance of psittacosis in an adult female in 2013. A similar epidemic among the lovebirds happened again last year, she said. The report noted about 30 birds died in 2013, and she said around the same number was reported last year.

And though the disease can spread to other bird species, not all are susceptible to it, so don’t assume every dead bird you find has avian chlamydiosis. When AZGFD first detected the disease in 2013, Justice-Allen said, “We did a research study to see if others birds were getting infected or getting sick and dying from it, and we couldn’t detect it to any degree.”

However, “Parrots are more susceptible,” she warned, “so keep pet parrots inside.”

Rosy-faced lovebirds—also known as rosy-collared or peach-faced lovebirds—are not native to Arizona. The colorful and vocal species lives in arid regions in Africa, but are popular as pets.

The theory about the wild flocks, according to the online report on ADHS, is that 15 to 20 pet birds might have been released from an aviary in the East Valley in the 1980s. They were first seen in east Mesa in 1987 and have been multiplying ever since.

On a half-day census in 2011, 984 wild lovebirds were recorded, and the entire population is estimated to comprise about 2,500 birds, according to the AZDH report. No more recent count was available.

Drake stopped feeding the lovebirds for now and said only a couple of stragglers have returned, but said she hopes to resume in about a month. When she saw one was struggling, she’d put it in a small “hospice” cage where it could be isolated and die in peace.

“Some of them died sitting in their water bowl, but it was comfortable for them,” she said. “It’s very sad. They’re very sweet little birds; they’re very personable.”

For more information and to report dead birds, visit www.azgfd.com/Wildlife/Diseases.

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