What Is Bartonella?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Bartonella is one of the many genera of existing bacteria. It is also described as gram-negative, which means it cannot hold on to a dye called crystal violet. Like all bacteria, this genus may be small, but can cause several diseases and infections not only to animals, but to humans as well. Eight different species of this bacterium are found to trigger an infection. A specific species called the bartonella quintana has even been discovered to have infected a tooth dated back as far as 4,000 years ago.

Animals and house pets can be infected by the bartonella bacteria through fleas, ticks, and lice. They can also catch the disease through contact with feces with the excreted bacteria. Humans, on the other hand, can also be infected via bedbugs, mosquitoes, and ticks, as well as contact with pets like cats and dogs, and rodents like rats and squirrels. The bacteria can also be transferred from an animal bite, or even from a simple scratch. Kittens and puppies are said to be more contagious, as their blood may inherently have the bacteria.


One of the more popular infections passed on by bartonella is from cats, called the “cat scratch fever,” carried by the species bartonella henselae. The infected area would usually be swollen, red, and contain some pus. Other symptoms that indicate an infection include fever, headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Many people do not realize that they are infected, as the symptoms appear only after one to two weeks. If the person has a strong immune system, the infection can go away on its own, but it might take a while, sometimes up to a month, before the infection totally disappears.

In unusual instances, bartonella can be highly dangerous, especially for a person with a weakened immune system. The infection that started on the skin can spread to different body parts such as the eyes and ear, evidenced by swollen lymph nodes and blurry vision specifically in the eyes. Internal organs such as the liver and kidney can also be infected and will not function normally. In rare cases, the heart or the brain can be infected, resulting in severe consequences, such as swelling of the heart valves and dysfunction in brain performance.

People with diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cancer, and Lyme disease are more vulnerable when infected with bartonella. They may require more aggressive treatments or higher dosage of antibiotics. Pregnant women should also be cautiously treated, as the medication can affect the development of the fetus inside the womb.



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