Psittacosis outbreak investigations require rapid identification of cases in order to trace possible sources and perform public health risk assessments. In recent outbreaks in the Netherlands, such investigations were hampered by the non-specificity of laboratory testing methods to identify human Chlamydia psittaci infections.
A systematic search of PubMed and Scopus databases of literature published between 01 January, 1986 and 03 July, 2017 was done to find best practices of laboratory-testing methods used in psittacosis outbreaks of two or more human cases. Reference lists of included articles were hand searched to identify additional articles.
Thirty-seven eligible articles were identified, describing 44 human psittacosis outbreaks in 12 countries. Laboratory tests performed were PCR (with various targets), serologic tests (complement binding reactions, ELISA's, immunofluorescence tests and immuno-peroxidase tests) and culture, in various combinations. The literature provided no 'gold standard' laboratory testing strategy to identify recent human C. psittaci infections. In most psittacosis outbreaks, for a considerable number of cases (or tested individuals in an exposed cohort), C. psittaci infection could not be confirmed, nor excluded as causative pathogen. None of the testing strategies was found to be suitable for (nearly) full case finding.
PCR enables rapid identification of human psittacosis patients and helps source finding by genotyping but has the disadvantage that sensitivity is high only in the acute phase. In outbreak situations, there is often a time delay and therefore, there is a need for new serologic testing methods next to PCR, with good specificity and sensitivity. Moreover, serum is easier to collect than the preferred diagnostic materials for PCR. A serologic test that can reliably confirm infection status without the necessity of convalescent serum sampling would enhance case finding, source tracing, identification of risk factors and assessment of burden of disease in various settings.