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5 dead, dozens hospitalized as ‘parrot fever’ surges across Europe

It’s nothing to squawk at.

At least five people have died across Europe so far this year in a frightening outbreak of psittacosis — a respiratory bacterial infection better known as “parrot fever.”

Four people have died in Denmark while one died in the Netherlands and dozens more have been hospitalized across Austria, Germany and Sweden, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The illness is carried by birds and generally passed through contact with infected animals or inhalation of particles from their feathers or dried feces.

Pet owners, poultry workers, gardeners and veterinarians are typically at higher risk of contracting parrot fever than most people.

Symptoms are typically mild and include fever, aches and coughing. In extreme cases, the illness can develop into pneumonia.

Known as “parrot fever,” the disease is typically carried by birds and transmitted through contact or particle inhalation. Getty Images
Known as “parrot fever,” the disease is typically carried by birds and transmitted through contact or particle inhalation. Getty Images

About one in 100 patients die, according to WHO.

Across Europe, the number of cases in recent months has been considerably higher than typical annual averages.

In Austria, where there are typically two cases annually, at least 14 were recorded in the final months of 2023, and four have been recorded as of March 2024.

Denmark generally sees between 15 and 30 annually, but as of Feb. 27, it recorded at least 23 — 17 of which resulted in hospitalizations.

Parrot fever attacks the respiratory system. Most cases are mild, but some can develop into fatal pneumonia Getty Images
Parrot fever attacks the respiratory system. Most cases are mild, but some can develop into fatal pneumonia Getty Images

Since December 2023, the Netherlands has seen twice as many cases as is typical for the same time of year.

In most of the recent cases, patients reported exposure to birds, according to WHO, and each affected nation has launched investigations to identify the cause of the spikes.

Despite the unusual uptick, WHO deemed the risk caused by the current outbreak to be low.