Clinical, radiological and pathological characteristics of moderate to fulminant psittacosis pneumonia

PLoS One. 2022 Jul 11;17(7):e0270896. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0270896. eCollection 2022.


Background: Psittacosis pneumonia is a community-acquired pneumonia caused by Chlamydia psittaci. It is usually under-diagnosed due to its atypical clinical presentation and lack of routine laboratory tests.

Methods: To better understand the clinical features, 52 patients diagnosed with psittacosis pneumonia by metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS) were enrolled in this study. The clinical, radiological and pathological characteristics were retrospectively analyzed.

Results: The onset of psittacosis pneumonia in this study occurred all year round, with a peak from December to January. Most of the patients were 51-80 years old. About 65.38% of patients had a history of exposure to poultry or parrots. Abnormalities of multiple clinical signals were detected in these patients. Elevated levels of neutrophil ratio, C-reactive protein, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and procalcitonin were detected in most patients. Radiological evidence revealed air-space consolidation or ground-glass opacities in lungs of all patients, which is the typical feature of psittacosis pneumonia. In addition, hyperemia, swelling of bronchial mucosa, and bronchial patency were detected by bronchoscopy in all patients, and bronchial sub-mucosal edema, inflammatory cells infiltration and alveolar epithelial hyperplasia were identified in the bronchial mucosa and alveolar tissue. Beta-lactam antibiotics were administered for empirical treatment before mNGS in 17 patients but showed no improvement. The treatment was switched to doxycycline or moxifloxacin immediately since psittacosis pneumonia were suspected and confirmed by mNGS detection (within 48 hours). After receiving adjustment of treatment, 94.23% (49/52) of patients were cured successfully.

Conclusions: In conclusion, mNGS may be a promising approach for clinical diagnosis of psittacosis. For patients with a history of exposure to birds, hyperpyrexia, nonproductive cough, multiple elevated inflammatory markers, and air-space consolidation in lung, psittacosis pneumonia should be considered, especially when beta-lactam antibiotics showed limited efficacy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Chlamydial Pneumonia*
  • Chlamydophila psittaci* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Hyperplasia / drug therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia* / drug therapy
  • Psittacosis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Psittacosis* / drug therapy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • beta-Lactams / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • beta-Lactams

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Scientific Research Project of Health Commission of Hunan Province, China (B2019174) and the Scientific Research Project of Science and Technology Bureau of Changsha, China (kq2004145).