Schizophrenia may be related to Bartonella, the bacteria behind ‘cat scratch’ disease that can be contracted through bites and scratches from infected felines.
Cats become infected with the bacteria through ticks and fleas, and transmission to humans can cause fatigue, headaches, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.
Cat scratch disease was long thought to be short-lived, but new findings suggest that in some people the infection may persist.
Researchers in the US tested the blood of both a small number of schizophrenia patients and healthy adults for evidence of Bartonella DNA.
They found that 12 of the 17 schizophrenia patients had Bartonella DNA in their blood, compared to a single member of the 13-strong control group.
This preliminary study was very limited in size and more research will be needed to establish a definitive link between Bartonella and schizophrenia.
However, the findings are suggestive and “strongly support” the launch of follow-up studies, the team commented.
Schizophrenia may be related to Bartonella, the bacteria behind ‘cat scratch’ disease that can be contracted through bites (pictured) and scratches from infected felines (stock image)
American researchers analyzed the blood of a small number of schizophrenia patients and healthy adults for evidence of Bartonella DNA. In the picture: a hand scratched by the claws of a cat. If the cat were infected with Bartonella, the person could develop cat scratch disease.
“Researchers have been looking at the connection between bacterial infection and neuropsychiatric disease for some time,” said article author and veterinary researcher Erin Lashnits of the University of Wisconsin.
“Specifically, there has been research suggesting that owning a cat is associated with schizophrenia due to the zoonotic parasite Toxoplasma gondii, but to date there has been no conclusive evidence to support the causal role of this parasite.
“So we decided to look at another infectious agent associated with cats, Bartonella, to see if there might be a connection.”
“While there is an emerging understanding of neuropsychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia as brain network disorders, the question about the actual causes remains unanswered,” said article author Flavio Frohlich.
“To our knowledge, this is the first work to examine a potential role for Bartonella in schizophrenia,” added the University of North Carolina psychiatrist.
In their small-scale study, the team enrolled 17 people with stable, medically managed cases of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and a control group of 13 healthy adults, all of whom were tested twice in a week to detect Bartonella infection.
The team found that 12 of the 17 schizophrenia patients had Bartonella DNA in their blood, compared to just one member of the control group.
Both patients and control groups had reported similar levels of pet ownership and exposure to fleas, which can also carry Bartonella.
Twelve of the 17 schizophrenia patients had Bartonella DNA (pictured in this artist’s impression) in their blood, compared to just one member of the 13-person control group.
“Bartonella ddPCR, a very new diagnostic technology, provides a more sensitive molecular test than we previously had access to,” said article author and infectious disease expert Ed Breitschwerdt of North Carolina State University.
“If we had not used ddPCR to test this cohort of individuals, we would not have found Bartonella DNA in any of the participants, neither in the case nor in the control.”
“It is important to remember that our study, by design, could not demonstrate a causal link between Bartonella infection and schizophrenia,” said Professor Frohlich.
“However, we believe that this initial observational study strongly supports the need for follow-up research.”
Cats become infected with the bacteria through ticks and fleas, and transmission to humans can cause fatigue, headaches, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and lesions at the sites of the bites (pictured)
In fact, with their initial study complete, the researchers are now planning a larger study to see if their preliminary results are truly confirmed.
“Many of these patients have been receiving care for years. What we are beginning to see is a pattern: Bartonella can persist for a long time, ”said Dr. Breitschwerdt.
“For the subset of people who cannot clear the infection, the bacteria can cause chronic or progressive disease.”
The full study findings were published in the journal Vector Borne and Zoonotic Diseases.
Schizophrenia is a serious, chronic mental disorder that affects the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves.
People with schizophrenia may seem to have lost touch with reality.
The cause of schizophrenia is not understood and is believed to be a combination of genetic (inherited) factors, abnormalities in brain chemistry, and / or possible viral infections and immune disorders.
Symptoms of schizophrenia usually begin between the ages of 16 and 30. In rare cases, children also have schizophrenia.
The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive.
Positive symptoms are alterations that ‘add to’ the person’s personality and include:
- Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking)
Negative symptoms are abilities that are ‘lost’ from the person’s personality and include:
- ‘Flat affect’ (reduced expression of emotions through facial expression or tone of voice)
- Reduced feeling of pleasure in everyday life.
- Difficulty starting and maintaining activities
Cognitive symptoms are changes in your memory or other aspects of thinking and include:
- Trouble concentrating or paying attention
- Problems with ‘working memory’
- Little ability to understand information and use it to make decisions.
The figures suggest that about one percent of the world’s population suffers from schizophrenia with about two million in the United States.
SOURCE: National Institute of Mental Health