Bartonella and sudden-onset adolescent schizophrenia
By Tracy Peake, North Carolina State University
In a new case study, researchers at North Carolina State University describe an adolescent human patient diagnosed with rapid onset schizophrenia who was found instead to have a Bartonella henselae infection.
This study adds to the growing body of evidence that Bartonella infection can mimic a host of chronic illnesses, including mental illness, and could open up new avenues of research into bacterial or microbial causes of mental disorders.
Bartonella is a bacteria most commonly associated with cat scratch disease, which until recently was thought to be a short-lived (or self-limiting) infection. There are at least 30 different known species of Bartonella, and 13 of those have been found to infect human beings.
Bartonella found in many chronic illnesses
The ability to find and diagnose Bartonella infection in animals and humans – it is notorious for “hiding” in the linings of blood vessels – has led to its identification in patients with a host of chronic illnesses. These range from migraines to seizures to rheumatoid illnesses that the medical community previously hadn’t been able to attribute to a specific cause.
In a case study published in the Journal of Central Nervous Disease, an adolescent boy with sudden onset psychotic behavior – diagnosed as schizophrenia – was seen and treated by numerous specialists and therapists over an 18-month period.
All conventional treatments for both psychosis and autoimmune disorders failed. Finally a physician recognized lesions on the patient’s skin that are often associated with Bartonella, and the patient tested positive for the infection. Combination antimicrobial chemotherapy led to full recovery.
“This case is interesting for a number of reasons,” says Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, Melanie S. Steele Distinguished Professor of Internal Medicine at NC State and lead author of the case report.
Connection to other disorders?
“Beyond suggesting that Bartonella infection itself could contribute to progressive neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, it raises the question of how often infection may be involved with psychiatric disorders generally.
“Researchers are starting to look at things like infection’s role in Alzheimer’s disease, for example. Beyond this one case, there’s a lot of movement in trying to understand the potential role of viral and bacterial infections in these medically complex diseases. This case gives us proof that there can be a connection, and offers an opportunity for future investigations.”
Co-authors of the study include NC State research associate professor Ricardo Maggi and research technician Julie Bradley, psychiatrist Dr. Rosalie Greenberg, rheumatologist Dr. Robert Mozayeni, and pediatrician Dr. Allen Lewis. Funding was provided by the College of Veterinary Medicine Bartonella/Vector Borne Disease Research Fund.
Source: North Carolina State University