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‘Cat-scratch’ bacteria linked to schizophrenia, study says

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This connection between kitties and mental illness is, disturbingly, growing increasingly strong. 

A new study has found that a bacteria known for causing the disease cat-scratch fever — named for cats’ propensity for spreading it through bites and scratches — is found in the bloodstream of schizophrenics more frequently than those without the mental disorder. 

The research, published this month in the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, only looked at a small contingent of people and is not definitive. But it adds to a growing body of work which supports that being infected with Bartonella bacteria can cause neurological problems. 

“Our research to date continues to support a role for Bartonella species as a cause or co-factor in neuropsychiatric illness,” study author Edward Breitschwerdt, who has been studying the bacteria for years, told Gizmodo. “There is a lot of work that needs to be accomplished to clarify these preliminary results.”

Breitschwerdt previously worked on a study about a 14-year-old Midwestern boy who suddenly began experiencing psychosis-like symptoms after being scratched by his cat.

“Historically, prior to psychiatric symptom onset, the boy was socially, athletically, and academically active, as evidenced by participation in national geography and history competitions, and a lead actor in a school play, winning an award in fencing and achieving excellent course grades,” a 2019 study by Breitschwerdt reported about the boy, who was initially diagnosed with schizophrenia.

He was once placed on a psychiatric hold for a week after saying he was an “evil, damned son of the devil,” according to a report at the time.

Doctors quickly began to dig through the boy’s medical records, hoping for answers that would explain the boy’s sudden bizarre behavior.

After many years in and out of hospitals, they found that in fact he was suffering from a Bartonella infection. After receiving antibiotics to treat the infection, the boy made a “full” recovery.

Late last year, Breitschwerdt published a study in the journal Pathogens in which 33 participants, 29 of whom were found to be infected with Bartonella, self-reported neuropsychiatric symptoms. That study’s findings also reported evidence of a connection between the bacteria and mental illness. 

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