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Microbe Detective

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.

Dr. Breitschwerdt in lab.
Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt examines slides in his laboratory in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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.

Watch a Video of Dr. Breitschwerdt

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  1. I’m sorry – I forgot to include that we live in Kansas. (But we’ll go ANYWHERE necessary to get my husband tested.)

  2. My husband is a veterinarian who has suffered for a number of years with symptoms of Bartonellosis and his condition is deteriorating, despite meds for neuropathy, fibromyalgia, etc. Our research on the internet led us to Galaxy Diagnostics. We were so disappointed to get that far and learn that commercial diagnostics have been stopped. I am concerned that if testing is done somewhere that is not on the cutting edge, a negative result may be incorrect. I’m wondering where the best location would be to go for a consultation? I have information on Dr. Mozayeni in Rockville, MD and if that is where we need to go, we will. Mayo Clinic in MN would be closer, but I’m uncertain if they are up-to-date in diagnosing and treating Bartonellosis? Any suggestions on where to go for testing would be tremendously appreciated.

  3. Is there a treatment for the disease? Is it like Lymes? or a form of?
    i had a dog get an uncurable painfull degerative nerve disease. Do you know if animals can get the same disease?

    1. Susan, yes humans with Bartonella can be treated, although effectiveness varies depending on the case.

      Bartonella and Lyme disease are caused by different types of bacteria. Both can be transmitted by insects. Animals can be carriers of Bartonella. Probably the most familiar example is cat scratch fever, which is caused by one strain of Bartonella. Infected cats rarely show signs of illness but humans can develop skin lesions, fever or systemic infection in severe cases.

  4. My daughter has been diagnosed with Lyme disease, but only from her symptoms. If diagnosed with bartonella, is there a successful treatment?

    1. Donna, I’m forwarding your question about Bartonella to Ed Breitschwerdt to ask for names of physicians to consult about your daughter’s diagnosis. Please understand that it may take a while for him to respond, given the hundreds of requests that he receives daily. Yes, Bartonella can be treated, although results depend on the case.
      Our best to you and your daughter.