There have been rumblings for a while about the possibility of a cat scratch rarely leading to a disease called ‘cat scratch fever’ which in turn might cause mental health issues in the victim, specifically schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder (SCZ/SAD). It sounds alarming and cat lovers will be hollering from the rooftops that it is just another way to malign the domestic cat. But it looks as if it does happen. Although there is a fine line between SCZ and the known symptoms of cat scratch disease which includes brain fog, memory loss and disorientation. Did the scientists confuse SCZ and these symptoms?!
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A recently published study has found a link between the bacteria which causes cat scratch fever and SCZ/SAD. They concluded that the zoonotic bacteria Bartonella spp. that causes cat scratch fever is found in the blood of people suffering from SCZ. They said, “People with SCZ/SAD were more likely than healthy volunteers to have Bartonella spp. DNA in their bloodstream”. They admit though that more work is required. They describe it as a ‘pilot study’.
The good part of the story is that a course of antibiotics cures the individual because this is a bacterial infection. A very simple fix provided the physician is sufficiently switched on the recognise the cause.
The moral of story is that if a person who was once mentally normal and healthy suddenly displays SCZ symptoms and if he/she also had symptoms of cat scratch disease the treatment should be antibiotics.
There is the well documented case of a teenager who contracted cat scratch disease and had these strange stretch mark lesions on his thighs and armpit; an indication of a severe example of the disease. After some head scratching and a life that was spiralling out of control because of mental health problems he was diagnosed with cat scratch fever, prescribed antibiotics and was cured. At one stage, the boy was hospitalised for 11 weeks in a psychiatric teaching hospital.
At the end of the day, the boy was diagnosed with the bacterial infection neurobartonellosis. The symptoms include disorientation.
So should we, the cat owning public, be worried about this finding? I don’t think we should because we are looking at a series of events which are rare. How rare?
In the US, CDC estimates that 12,000 people will be diagnosed with cat scratch fever. That sounds a lot but if there are 90 million cat owning households in the country the incidence of this disease across the US is 0.0013%. And how many develop these schizophrenia-like symptoms? We don’t know but it will be rare as well.
The conclusion is to be aware of the possibility of cat scratch disease causing these mental health issues and carry on as normal. But always use common sense in avoiding cat scratches. There are ways to handle domestic cats. Some lead to scratches and some don’t. Learn about the latter. You can apply common sense to figure that one out.
The study: Schizophrenia and Bartonella spp. Infection: A Pilot Case–Control Study by Erin Lashnits, Ricardo Maggi, Fredrik Jarskog, Julie Bradley, Edward Breitschwerdt, and Flavio Frohlich.
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