what is this disease which has killed five people in Europe and worries the WHO?

what is this disease which has killed five people in Europe and worries the WHO?


In a alert bulletin published Tuesday, the WHO is concerned about an “increase in cases of psittacosis observed in 2023 and early 2024”, and “particularly marked since November”.

What is psittacosis?

This is a respiratory infection caused by bacteria called chlamydophila psittaci (C. psittaci), which most often infects birds, both wild and domestic: 450 species have been identified as likely to infect humans.

The disease does not cause the appearance of any visible clinical signs in birds. vs. psittaci is also associated with various species of mammals, including dogs, cats, horses, pigs, and ruminants as well as reptiles. And it can infect humans.

How is it spread?

Humans are mainly contaminated by birds, most often without direct contact, via the inhalation of airborne particles from respiratory secretions, dried excrement or dust from bird feathers.

Those most at risk are poultry farmers, veterinarians, pet bird owners, gardeners, etc. Psittacosis is recognized as an occupational disease. According to the WHO, “there is a low probability of human-to-human transmission of the disease.”

Is it a serious illness?

In most cases, according to the WHO, psittacosis is benign: it is characterized by flu-like symptoms (fever and chills, headache, muscle pain and dry cough). Only a specific test can therefore be formally identified. The first signs appear 5 to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Rapidly taking a suitable antibiotic (tetracycline) generally makes it possible to avoid complications and limit the fatal risk to 1% of patients. But otherwise, respiratory complications (severe atypical pneumonia) or not (cardiac, neurological, hepatic, renal damage, etc.) can lead to the death of the patient.

How many cases, and where?

Psittacosis is an animal disease under surveillance, requiring mandatory notification in the countries concerned. Throughout 2023 and during the first months of 2024, several dozen cases have been recorded in at least five countries, “an unusual and unexpected increase” according to the WHO.

In detail, Austria declared 14 cases in 2023 and four new cases at the start of 2024. In Denmark, 23 people were diagnosed between the end of 2023 and February 27: 17 patients were hospitalized and 15 of them developed pneumonia. . Four of these patients did not survive. Germany reported 14 cases in 2023 and five more until February 20. Almost all patients suffered from pneumonia. In Sweden, seven cases were noted in November 2023, 19 in December, 10 in January and three in February

Finally, out of 21 people recorded between December 2023 and February in the Netherlands (double the usual figures), one died. No common source of infection has been identified. All the most recent cases have been hospitalized. The patients were between 37 and 86 years old (mean age: 67 years), and 76% of them were men (16 cases). Six noted contact with wild bird droppings, seven had contact with domestic bird droppings, and eight reported no contact with birds.

For the moment, no cases have been detected in France.

What does the WHO recommend?

The organization believes that the risk of spread to other countries is low, although it does not rule out the possibility of contaminated wild birds crossing borders. She ensures that she closely monitors epidemiological investigations linked to samples taken from patients. The WHO calls on doctors to be vigilant and advises people in contact with birds to be impeccable with hygiene.


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