Bartonella Infection Associated with Rheumatoid Illnesses in Humans

A bacterium historically associated with cat scratch fever and transmitted predominately by fleas may also play a role in human rheumatoid illnesses such as arthritis, according to new research from North Carolina State University.

Bartonella is a bacterium that is maintained in nature by fleas, ticks and other biting insects. It can be transmitted to humans both by these parasites as well as by bites or scratches from infected cats and dogs. The most commonly known Bartonella-related illness is cat scratch disease, caused by B. henselae, a species of Bartonella that can be carried in a cat’s blood for months to years.

In collaboration with Dr. Robert Mozayeni, a rheumatologist based in Maryland, and Dr. Ricardo Maggi, a research assistant professor at NC State, Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, professor of internal medicine at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and adjunct professor of medicine at Duke University, tested blood samples from 296 patients for evidence of Bartonella infection. The patients had previously been diagnosed with conditions ranging from Lyme disease to arthritis to chronic fatigue. Since rheumatic symptoms have sometimes been reported following cat scratch disease, the researchers wanted to see if these patients tested positive for B. henselae.

Of the 296 patients, 62 percent had Bartonella antibodies, which supported prior exposure to these bacteria. Bacterial DNA was found in 41 percent of patient samples, allowing investigators to narrow the species of Bartonella present, with B. henselae, B. kohlerae and B. vinsonii subsp. berkhoffii the most prevalent. The study appears in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“Based upon this one study we can’t definitively say that a subset of rheumatoid illnesses have an infectious origin,” Breitschwerdt says. “However, our results thus far do implicate Bartonella as a factor in at least some cases. If the link between Bartonella and rheumatoid illnesses is valid, it may also open up more directed treatment options for patients with rheumatoid illnesses.”


Note to editors:  Abstract of the paper follows.

“Bartonella spp. Bacteremia and Rheumatic Symptoms in Patients from Lyme Disease–endemic Region”

Authors: Ricardo G. Maggi, Elizabeth L. Pultorak, Barbara C. Heggarty, Julie M. Bradley, Maria Correa, Ed Breitschwerdt, North Carolina State University; B. Robert Mozayeni, Translational Medicine Group, PC, Maryland

Published: Online ahead of print in Emerging Infectious Diseases


Bartonella spp. infection has been reported in association with an expanding spectrum of symptoms and lesions. Among 296 patients examined by a rheumatologist, prevalence of antibodies against Bartonella henselae, B. koehlerae, or B. vinsonii subsp. berkhoffii (185 [62%]) and Bartonella spp. bacteremia (122 [41.1%]) was high. Conditions diagnosed before referral included Lyme disease (46.6%), arthralgia/arthritis (20.6%), chronic fatigue (19.6%), and fibromyalgia (6.1%). B. henselae bacteremia was significantly associated with prior referral to a neurologist, most often for blurred vision, subcortical neurologic deficits, or numbness in the extremities, whereas B. koehlerae bacteremia was associated with examination by an infectious disease physician. This cross-sectional study cannot establish a causal link between Bartonella spp. infection and the high frequency of neurologic symptoms, myalgia, joint pain, or progressive arthropathy in this population; however, the contribution of Bartonella spp. infection, if any, to these symptoms should be systematically investigated.

13 responses on “Bartonella Infection Associated with Rheumatoid Illnesses in Humans

  1. Maureen says:

    I was hospitalized for Cat Scratch fever and have never been the same since. My joints have been in constant pain . Now 7 years later I have arthritis through out my body. I truley believe it is due to the cat scratch fever.

    1. france says:

      I expérience thé same…4 years after a tough battle against bartonella infection .My knees and ankles especially.

  2. Denise says:

    I had cat scratch fever about 5 years the pain in all my joints is almost unbearable. Now I also sleep every moment I can including being late for work. I also haven’t been able to loose weight whether I diet and exercise or not.

    1. france says:

      I expérience the same thing. After a tough battle against bartonella 4 years ago. Pain in my knees and ankles. Especially in the morning wher i first walk

  3. Dia Broussard says:

    I was diagnosed with Bartonella in year 2012, shortly after my retired assistance dog died from Lyme D and co-infections (vet would not check for Bartonella). My symptom list started in year 2000 when I was doing k9 search and rescue training with my dog but although I had visited many doctors looking for help I was not diagnosed until year 2012. Much damage had already been done: my vision, my hearing-tinnitus, migraines, anxiety, extreme fatigue, neuropathy, asthma like symptoms, irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, thermo irregularities, multiple joint flares which have progressed to nodules on my hands, fingers and toe joints–list goes on and on. I have been on oral antibiotics for 3 years now. Some of the symptoms have been alleviated but still have most and if I go off the antibiotics for more than a few weeks, all symptoms return. Its a nightmare; Bartonella is REAL and is a health and life wrecker.

  4. Bobby Kirk says:

    I have Lyme, bartonella , and babesia. I took antibiotics and cyst busters for 15 months. I started going to a dr. In King’s Mt and he is a miracle worker. Way ahead of Modern medicine.

    1. Alex says:

      Hi Bobby,
      Glad to hear you’re getting better! May I ask for the name of the doctor please? Is it Chinese medicine?

      Take care

      1. Erma says:

        I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia many years ago. Mostly same symptoms. Could you give me info on your Dr.? Also info on your treatment.

    2. Evan says:

      My wife has been dealing with the same infections that you had. What did your medical treatment consist of. She has tried all most everything.

    3. Erma says:

      So glad you have found a miracle worker. Please share with me your doctor’s info and your treatment. I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia many years ago. I have many of the same symptoms. This has left my quality of life poor. I sure could use a MIRACLE WORKER. DESPERATELY SEEKING HELP

    4. Laurel Smith says:

      Is Kings Mountain in North Carolina? I am in Atlanta.

    5. Dan says:

      Hello. My name is Dan, and I recently connected my joint inflammation, excessive joint popping, narrowing knee space, and rheummatoid like conditions to my bartonella infection. I was wondering, who your doctor is, how he treated you, and how much did your joint health bounce back? Would appreciate all the info you can offer. Thank you.

    6. Joelle says:

      What’s a cyst buster? I have csd and now have an abscess.

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