No sign of parakeet disease in Southern New England

People have kept parakeets in the home as pets for decades.

For that same amount of time, there's been a threat owners could contract psittacosis chlamydia from those birds.

"The problem is that the pet trade is actually dealing with such huge numbers of birds that they have to rely on sort of a parrot mill. So, the conditions are similar to those in puppy mills. It's inevitable that sooner or later disease is going to break out in those overcrowded facilities," said Marc Johnson of Foster Parrots, a bird rescue and foster group.

This year, psittacosis popped up in a flock of birds sold at PetSmart.

The O'Briens from the Chicago area bought one of the infected birds.

"We came home and our bird was dead," Wendi O'Brien said. "My husband is sick. My sister is sick."

PetSmart said it found 16 sick birds.

About 500 stores nationwide were affected.

None of the sick birds were here at pet stores in Rhode Island because PetSmart would have to notify the state veterinarian. NBC 10 also called all the PetSmart stores in Massachusetts and it doesn't seem like any of the sick birds were there either.

"We had an outbreak actually last year that we traced into some local pet stores. But I haven't heard of a new outbreak," said Dr. Scott Marshall, the Rhode Island state veterinarian.

The disease also infects parrots and cockatoos, and if transferred to people it produces flu-like symptoms.

It's easily treated in both birds and people, but it can also be fatal for some.

"People with HIV, people undergoing cancer chemotherapy, people that have an immune system that's suppressed for any reason and should be very cautious and probably talk to their physician before they acquire a bird," Marshall said.

PetSmart said it sent the birds back to the breeder for medical treatment, but Johnson said he has doubts the birds will survive.

"Just the transport alone, a certain number will die," Johnson said.

PetSmart is offering to help parakeet owners find a vet to get their bird tested for the disease. The company said it will pay for the test.