Epidemiology of Chlamydia psittaci Infection in Racing Pigeons and Pigeon Fanciers in Beijing, China

Zoonoses Public Health. 2015 Aug;62(5):401-6. doi: 10.1111/zph.12161. Epub 2014 Sep 22.


Over 3 million racing pigeons (Columba livia) are registered in Beijing City Center for gambling purposes. During 2008-2010, we evaluated the occurrence and prevalence of Chlamydia psittaci in racing pigeons as well as the possible zoonotic transmission to pigeon fanciers in six districts of Beijing where pigeon races are particularly popular. C. psittaci-specific serum antibody titres were obtained from 370 pigeons and 79 fanciers using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. In addition, 206 and 67 throat swabs were, respectively, collected from pigeons and fanciers and tested for the presence of chlamydial antigen using immunofluorescence. C. psittaci-specific serum antibody was detected in 37 of 370 pigeons and 19 of 79 fanciers. Of 206 pigeon clinical specimens, 55 were positive for C. psittaci antigen, while 16 of 67 swabs from the pigeon fanciers were positive. Based on ompA sequence analysis, the genotype of several avian and human isolates was genotype B. Thus, both high-titre C. psittaci-specific antibody and C. psittaci-specific antigen were found with relatively high frequency in the pigeon flocks as well as in the pigeon fanciers. Our study suggests that C. psittaci infection is prevalent among the racing pigeon population in Beijing. Moreover, detection of serum antibodies and antigen in pigeon fanciers suggests that exposure and possible zoonotic transmission of C. psittaci from racing pigeons to humans does occur. In view of the life-threatening respiratory illness C. psittaci may cause in humans, regulatory public health measures, to prevent further spread of the pathogen in avian populations and possible transmission to exposed humans, are urgently needed.

Keywords: Beijing; Chlamydia psittaci; antibody; antigen; fancier; isolate; pigeon; prevalence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • China / epidemiology
  • Chlamydophila psittaci / isolation & purification*
  • Columbidae*
  • Humans
  • Psittacosis / epidemiology
  • Psittacosis / veterinary*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sports
  • Zoonoses