Dear Dr. Fox: Two years ago I started having short episodes of double vision, numbness on the right side of my face, diminished taste sensation and gait abnormality. For about a week, I had to walk with assistance and could not drive. My primary-care doctor diagnosed me with central origin vertigo and ordered an MRA (to check blood flow to the brain) and an MRI of the brain. The brain showed some spots. I was then referred to a neurologist, who did a lumbar puncture. This confirmed a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
The diagnosis was devastating, even though I had no outward signs of the disease. I started taking the oral medication Tecfidera. As time passed, I developed a severe anxiety disorder, and I had obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I had a lot of other psych symptoms that I somehow managed to keep under control. I developed fears of everyday things, such as being afraid to make a pitcher of iced tea, take a shower or do the dishes; if you asked me why I was afraid, I couldn’t tell you. I had turned into a person my husband didn’t recognize.
More symptoms started snowballing as time went on.
I made an appointment with a vector-borne disease specialist and was tested for Bartonella, cat-scratch fever. The abnormalities in my spinal fluid, brain spots and constant inflammation are most likely caused by the infection.
My doctor and I discussed how I got infected. I do own a cat, and he has bitten and scratched me innocently during play. I recall one occasion when I got a deep bite on the thin skin on the back of my hand, so I figure that these bacteria had almost three years to multiply in my central nervous system. Oh, and it’s not just from cats. It can be contracted from a dog or any animal, plus many insects.
I will be on three different antibiotics daily for several months. Some of the psych and neuro symptoms have resolved, but I still have a way to go. My case may be atypical, but all possibilities have to be considered when it comes to these vector-borne diseases. — C.C., Cumberland, Maryland
Dear C.C.: I’m sure that many readers will sympathize with you and appreciate your call for greater vigilance concerning this bacterial disease transmissible from cats and other animals to humans. Your experience is a warning to all cat owners not to let their cats roam free because they may pick up fleas that have fed on infected cats.
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In my experience this presentation is NOT atypical, in fact, it is quite common at least here in Wisconsin. And please know – the jury’s out on whether ticks can transmit Bartonella; however, prudence would err on the side of caution and it’s only logical to consider any pathogen in an animal that could be transferred to a tick which then could be transferred to a human. Logical.
Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, professor of internal medicine at North Carolina State University, has done the most work with Bartonella noting that nearly half of all cats might carry it and that each animal possibly has its own strain. That’s a lot of strains. How can testing keep up with that? When you read about Bartonella, most articles make it out as a benign pathogen easily dealt with by the immune system. More and more is coming out about how prevalent and destructive it is. Certainly for anyone who is immunocompromised, such as Lyme patients, it is a key player.
Please notice this person’s treatment was 3 antibiotics simultaneously. That’s a hefty regimen for a benign pathogen that the immune system should be able to handle. This type of treatment, by the way, is what an experienced ILADS doctor treating tick borne illness would prescribe. They understand the complexity and interactions of these pathogens since it is rarely just one pathogen. Since this person had Lyme previously, it might still be a player allowing the Bartonella to do more damage than a person who was not infected. This is a key issue for health practitioners to get through their heads. We are rarely infected with just one thing and all the doxycycline in the world is not going to fix this.
The South is really picking up cases, but please note the true infection rates are undoubtedly much, much higher: https://madisonarealymesupportgroup.com/2016/12/29/cardinal-state-bartonella/
For more on Bartonella: