Cat Scratch Fever Bacteria Linked to RA

Rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions associated with Bartonella infection

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Cats are a common creature in households around the United States. We love our furry friends. But they can also carry a bacteria that could be giving us illnesses like arthritis.

A bacteria mainly associated with cat scratch fever may also be linked to rheumatoid diseases.

"Keep your cats clean to avoid infection."

Bartonella is a type of bacteria found in fleas, body lice, ticks, and other biting insects. The bacterium can be passed on to humans through these bugs or through bites and scratches from infected animals, such as cats.

According to Edward B. Breitschwerdt, DVM, professor of internal medicine at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and colleagues, research has linked Bartonella to a variety of health problems.

For their study, Dr. Breitschwerdt and his fellow researchers wanted to see if people with arthritis, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia had been exposed to Bartonella.

To figure out which patients were exposed to Bartonella, the researchers used PCR - a tool that quickly and easily identifies types of bacteria from small samples of bacterial cells.

Out of 296 patients involved in the study, 185 (62 percent) had antibodies against Bartonella. Antibodies can be signs of prior exposure to the bacterium.

Bartonella was found in the blood of 41 percent of the participants.

Normally, your bloodstream is a sterile environment. So it is abnormal to have bacteria flowing through your blood. But with a bacterium like Bartonella that is primarily transmitted through biting bugs and animal scratches, it is not unusual to see bacteria in the bloodstream.

Through looking at the bacteria in patients' blood, the researchers were able to pinpoint the specific species of Bartonella that infected their participants.

Patients who had Bartonella henselae in their blood were more likely to have been referred to a neurologist than other patients. In most cases, these patients went to the neurologist because of blurred vision, problems with the part of the brain below the cerebral cortex, or numbness in their extremities (i.e., hands, arms, legs and feet).

Patients infected by Bartonella koehlerae, on the other hand, were more likely to see a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases.

According to the authors, these findings do not show that Bartonella infection directly causes the high rate of joint pain, joint disease, neurological problems, and myalgia. However, they believe their findings call for more study of Bartonella's role in the development of these conditions.

The full study is published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 23, 2012
Last Updated:
June 20, 2013