Prevalence of Microsporidian Spores Shed by Asymptomatic Lovebirds: Evidence for a Potential Emerging Zoonosis Academic Article uri icon


  • Several reports implicate Encephalitozoon hellem, a microsporidian parasite first described in humans and later in birds, as the causative agent of severe disease in immunocompromised patients. This study was conducted to assess the prevalence of microsporidian spores shed in the droppings of lovebirds. During a 7-month period, a total of 198 apparently healthy lovebirds from 8 flocks in Texas were sampled, including 113 peach-faced lovebirds (Agapornis roseicollis), 32 masked lovebirds (Agapornis personata), and 53 Fischer's lovebirds (Agapornis fischeri). Smears made from cloacal swab samples of individual birds were stained with calcofluor white M2R stain and examined for the presence of spores. Microsporidian spores were identified in the droppings of 25% of the lovebirds sampled. Peach-faced and masked lovebirds were more likely to shed spores than were Fischer's lovebirds (χ2 = 15.905, P < .001). No difference in spore shedding was found between juvenile and adult birds (χ2 = 0.157, P = .692; odds ratio = 1.659; 95% CI, 0.736-3.736). Lovebirds (n = 111) were also assayed for psittacine beak and feather disease virus by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing of individual blood samples. Lovebirds that were PCR positive for psittacine beak and feather disease virus (n = 23) were approximately 3 times more likely to shed microsporidian spores than were lovebirds that were PCR negative (χ2 = 3.981, P = .046; odds ratio = 2.6; 95% CI, 1.013-6.754). These results suggest that companion birds without obvious clinical illness commonly shed microsporidian spores. These birds may be a source of spore contamination for opportunistic infections in humans.

altmetric score

  • 7

author list (cited authors)

  • Barton, C. E., Phalen, D. N., & Snowden, K. F.

citation count

  • 26

publication date

  • December 2003