The psittacosis epidemic of 1929–1930, spread by the Australian budgie, provides lessons for the COVID‐19 pandemic
At a time when the world is engulfed by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, it is worth looking at an outbreak to which Australia made a special contribution — the psittacosis (after the Greek word for parrot) epidemic of 1929–1930.1 An important vector for the infection was our greatest export — the budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulatus, more commonly known as the budgie, the most popular pet in the world after dogs and cats.2 In America our little feathered friend is called the shell parrot or lovebird.
- 1. Ramsay EC. The psittacosis outbreak of 1929–1930. J Avian Med Surg 2003; 17: 235–237.
- 2. Harris S, Baker D. Budgerigar: how a brave, chatty and colourful little Aussie bird stole the world’s heart. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2020.
- 3. Armstrong C. Psittacosis: epidemiological considerations with reference to the 1929–30 outbreak in the United States. Public Health Rep 1930; 45: 2013–2018.
- 4. Hasseltine HE. Some epidemiological aspects of psittacosis. Am J Public Health Nat Health 1932; 22: 795–803.
- 5. Lepore J. It’s spreading: outbreaks, media scares, and the parrot panic of 1930. The New Yorker 2009; 25 May. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/06/01/its-spreading (viewed Dec 2020).
- 6. Tomes N. Merchants of health: medicine and consumer culture in the United States, 1900–1940. J Am History 2001; 88: 519–547.
- 7. Honigsbaum M. In search of sick parrots: Karl Friedrich Meyer, disease detective. Lancet 2014; 383: 1880–1881.
- 8. Burnet FM. Enzootic psittacosis among wild Australian parrots. J Hygiene 1935; 35: 412–420.
- 9. NSW Government Department of Health. Psittacosis control guideline. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/controlguideline/Pages/psittacosis.aspx (viewed May 2021).
Publication of your online response is subject to the Medical Journal of Australia's editorial discretion. You will be notified by email within five working days should your response be accepted.