A Serious Disease With Potentially Serious Consequences

by Lucy Barnes

NOV 2008- UPDATED May 2015- Bartonella henselae and Bartonella quintana, sometimes referred to as “cat-scratch” and “trench” fever respectively, are two types of intracellular gram negative bacteria which can cause severe, chronic health issues and sudden death. Maryland residents are at high risk for exposure to various Bartonella bacteria.

Possible signs and symptoms- Fatigue, dizziness, stiff legs, pain in feet (especially bottoms of feet- worse early in the morning), sweats, restlessness, myalgias, migrating pain (can be extreme) in and around joints, heart attacks, heart valve problems, endocarditis (mortality 25%), cardiomegaly, strokes, skin rashes, skin tags, burning and crawling sensations, aseptic meningitis, encephalopathy, fever, panic attacks, liver or spleen abnormalities, low-grade fever, abscesses, hot flashes, muscle cramps, confusion, abdominal pain, hepatitis, seizures (mild to severe), numbness in hands, rage, depression, difficulty walking, facial numbness, wandering (usually unilateral) joint pain, urinary disorders, or arthritis.

Some patients experience acute and relapsing symptom patterns, painful headaches, lymphadenopathy, cognitive dysfunction, joint swelling, CNS lesions, red splotches or slightly raised red spots on skin, lymph node swelling, skin manifestations (acne, stretch marks, subcutaneous nodules), spider veins, bone pain- especially in shins (Bartonella quintana, aka shin bone fever) and along the rib cage, chest wall pain, ice-pick pain sensations in head, mild sore throat, softening of bone, bone infections, radiculitis, difficulty swallowing, transverse myelitis, polyneuropathy, slurred speech, elevated liver enzymes, gall bladder dysfunction, crusty scalp, respiratory complications, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, irregular pulse, and an array of eye related problems such as dry eyes, conjunctivitis, neuroretinitis and a distortion or loss of vision.

Bartonella symptoms may wax and wane or appear to be in remission. If not treated properly in the early stages, Bartonella can become a disabling condition that can be expensive and difficult to treat. Bartonella has been misdiagnosed or mistaken for vasculitis, breast cancer, hepatitis, Kaposi’s sarcoma, splenic lymphoma and a variety of neurological and psychiatric illnesses. People infected with Bartonella may also be coinfected with one or more of the 300 plus known Lyme strains, viruses and/or additional vector borne infectious diseases.

Bartonella rash forming shortly after a deer fly bite.

Bartonella organisms have been detected in ticks, fleas, cats, mice, rats, voles, pigs, dogs, ear mites, lice, flies, bobcats, elk,animal saliva, dust mites, mountain lions, deer, coyotes and fox.

Research is needed to determine if there are additional carriers, transmitters and more unidentified species of Bartonella. Physicians must be trained to look for Bartonella infections in their patients and accurate tests must be developed to detect Bartonella species in both animals and humans.

Testing: Important- Treat the patient, not the test! Quest Diagnostics Test: Bartonella Species Antibody (IGG, IGM) with Reflex to Titers. Code 34251x

Treatment: There is no one-size-fits-all treatment protocol for Bartonella infections. Doxycycline, rifampin, ciprofloxacin, erythromycin, tetracycline, clarithromycin, azithromycin or combinations of antibiotics have been used with varying degrees of success. Retreatment is often necessary in long standing cases.

Special note- Bartonella bacteremia has been detected in 89% beef cattle tested from Oklahoma and 17% of dairy cattle from California. Recently, a study by the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University reported finding one or more species of bartonella in 82.4% of cattle they tested.


Dr. James Schaller's 2012 Checklist for Bartonella

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Lyme and Bartonellosis