Birds And Horses Can Infect People With Chlamydia

Australian researchers believe they have found a link between bird chlamydia and equine pregnancy loss -- and humans can be affected too.

Birds are at the centre of chlamydia research, with concerning new evidence into the spread a particular strain of the disease affecting the respiratory system.

Humans are at risk of contracting the infection -- Chlamydia psittaci -- through fecal matter and oral fluids of birds, said Dr Martina Jelocnik from the university of the Sunshine Coast Animal Research Centre.

"Between the different animals, the infection is most likely spread through fecal droppings, so by bird droppings in the environment," she told ten daily.

For humans, the health effects can be detrimental should they contract the disease.

“When humans are infected with the disease they can develop serious respiratory disease, which can require hospitalisation and antibiotic treatment, with a risk of long-term health problems," Jelocnik said.

But researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast Animal Research Centre, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), Scone Equine Group and Hunter New England Health have found further evidence that horses can now be infected as well.

The strain has also been linked with equine pregnancy loss and early foal deaths. The bird pathogen was found in the placenta and and tissue of 20 per cent of cases involving dead fetuses and foals in 2016, linking the disease to their deaths.

"We made the link because we have swabs taken from the placenta and the tissue of the dead foals, and by molecular studies, we have found Chlamydia psittaci," Jelocnik said.

What Does This Mean For Humans?

“The fact that birds can transfer chlamydia to humans is well-known, now there is more evidence horses may transmit the disease too,” Jelocnik said.

She also told ten daily that people can protect themselves by taking caution in dealing with animals in general.

"But, if a human, let's say, found a dead foal in the middle of a field, we highly recommend don't touch anything like that," she said.

"If the public take precautions they will be fine,"

Further research will be made into the how the infection can be contained, said Dr Cheryl Jenkins, a NSW DPI microbioligst who joined Jelocnik as a lead researcher.

“Further research is necessary to determine the range of potential factors influencing infection from birds and the risk equine infections pose to human health,” she said.

Image: Getty Images

At the present time, this strain of chlamydia has been found in several clusters of regional NSW -- which is a prime horse-rearing area.

The research hopes to identify the species of birds that carry the infection and where else it can be found, to prevent an epidemic.