Ever been bitten by a flea or scratched by a cat? If so, then it’s possible you’ve been exposed to a bacteria called Bartonella. Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, who’s been studying this growing family of microbes for decades, says you’re not alone.
“It’s pretty obvious that most people may not get through life without being exposed to one or more Bartonella species,” he says.
Family Suffers for Years
If you’re lucky, your immune system kicks in and handles the microscopic invader. Otherwise, you may be in for a good deal of grief.
Breitschwerdt, a professor of internal medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine, recently ran tests on a family that had been suffering from chronic illnesses for years. Both parents had suffered recurring neurological symptoms, including headaches and memory loss, as well as shortness of breath, muscle weakness and fatigue before their children were born. In addition, their 10-year-old son was chronically ill from birth and his twin sister died due to a heart defect at nine days of age.
Blood and tissue samples, including autopsy samples from the daughter, confirmed that the entire family had been infected with Bartonella for at least a decade.
The findings are sobering.
‘We have historically blamed transmission on bites or scratches from animals, and by insects biting someone,” Breitschwerdt says. “Now there is the possibility that transmission is occurring from the mother to the child.”
Breitschwerdt recently helped set up a company in Research Triangle Park called Galaxy Diagnostics to test animals and people for Bartonella infection.