Extra Proof Hyperlinks ‘Cat Scratch’ Micro organism and Schizophrenia

Illustration for article titled More Evidence Links 'Cat Scratch' Bacteria and SchizophreniaPhoto: Christopher Furlong (Getty Images)

New research is the most recent that finds evidence of a link between mental illness and infections caused by a group of bacteria common in cats and other animals. The small study found that people diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder were more likely to have Bartonella bacteria in their bloodstream than a control group of patients. More research is needed to definitely show whether these infections can actually lead to mental illness.

Acute infections with Bartonella bacteria can be especially serious for People in poor health or with a weakened immune system. Most people are believed to cause only mild and short-lived illnesses. However, Ed Breitschwerdt and his colleagues at North Carolina State University have theorized for years that the health effects of these infections can go deeper in at least some unfortunate people.

Illustration for article titled More Evidence Links 'Cat Scratch' Bacteria and Schizophrenia

Your previous work has highlighted the case of a 14-year-old boy who suddenly developed schizophrenia-like symptoms and later carried a species of Bartonella known to cause cat-scratch fever. In this case, the boy’s severe psychiatric problems seemed to clear up when his chronic Bartonella infection was treated with antibiotics. Last year they did released Research found that other people with similar neuropsychiatric symptoms frequently carried these bacteria, along with physical symptoms of persistent infection that occurred around the same time, such as: B. Pronounced skin lesions.

For this new research, NC State researchers worked with researchers from the University of North Carolina. Your study, released Last week, 17 people diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder in vector-borne and zoonotic diseases were compared with a control group of 13 healthy people in a so-called case-control study.

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According to the study, both groups underwent extensive testing. This included using more sensitive PCR tests, which look for DNA for the presence of pathogens in our bodies. Bartonella is a bit strange among bacteria because they are able to infect the cells of our body (red blood cells in the case of Bartonella) and then hide in them. This vanishing trick allows them to survive undetected by the immune system and makes conventional tests worse at detecting an active infection. Last year Breitschwerdt and his colleagues released Research shows that this newer testing technique, known as the Droplet Digital or ddPCR test, can more accurately identify Bartonella than older tests.

Traces of Bartonella DNA were found in 11 of the 17 people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, while this was only true for one of the 13 control patients. Although cats, dogs, and even the fleas they carry may be vectors for Bartonella transmission, the team found no association between a higher likelihood of infection and reported pet ownership or flea exposure.

Illustration for article titled More Evidence Links 'Cat Scratch' Bacteria and Schizophrenia

The team carefully describes its work as a pilot study just to prove that it is worth further exploring this link. Breitschwerdt, however, believes that this theory is getting stronger and stronger in conjunction with her earlier research.

“Our research to date continues to support a role for Bartonella species as a cause or cofactor in neuropsychiatric disorders,” Breitschwerdt told Gizmodo in an email.

However, he added, “There is still a lot of work to be done to clarify these preliminary results.”

The team is already working on validating ddPCR tests for other groups of bacteria that can enter the bloodstream and may be harder to find on standard tests. With more funding and collaboration with other research centers, they also hope to conduct a larger study comparing people with and without schizophrenia.