NORD gratefully acknowledges Edward B. Breitschwerdt, DVM, Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, for assistance in the preparation of this report.
Bartonellosis is a group of emerging infectious diseases caused by bacteria belonging to the Bartonella genus. Bartonella includes at least 22 named species of bacteria that are mainly transmitted by carriers (vectors), including fleas, lice, or sandflies. Both domestic and wild animals can be infected with Bartonella species (Bartonella spp) by these vectors. Among the Bartonella spp, at least 14 have been implicated in diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people (zoonotic disease). Of these zoonotic species, several may be transmitted to humans by companion animals (dogs and cats), typically through a bite or scratch.
Human diseases that have been identified to be caused by one of the Bartonella spp bacteria include cat scratch fever (Bartonella henselae), Carrion’s disease (Bartonella bacilliformis), and trench fever (Bartonella quintana). Symptoms of a Bartonella infection include fever, fatigue, malaise, swollen lymph nodes, joint aches and swelling, neurological abnormalities, and skin rash or markings.
Bartonella spp have also been associated with diseases of the skin (bacillary angiomatosis), liver (peliosis hepatis), heart (endocarditis), eyes (neuroretinis), blood (bacteremia), and brain (encephalopathy). Emerging research suggests an association of Bartonella with chronic health conditons affecting the central nervous system, joints, and vascular system in patients with both healthy and compromised immune systems.
Bartonella infection does not always result in manifestation of illness. A number of studies have detected clinically healthy people that have tested positive (seropositive) for Bartonella and those who become ill usually develop mild disease that tends to end without treatment (self-limiting). Immunocompromised patients, such as those undergoing immunosuppressive treatments for cancer, organ transplant patients, and people with HIV/AIDS, are more likely to develop severe, life-threatening disease.
In 1909, Dr. Alberto Barton discovered the organism that became named Bartonell bacilliformis. Diseases caused by Bartonella spp occur all over the United States and in all major regions of the world, with higher prevalence occurring in areas that harbor insect carriers (arthropod vectors).
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