Bartonella henselae and Cat Scratch Fever: Part 3 of 3

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Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

The Enemy

With regards to any adversary in our lives that we must confront, be it in politics, business, or bad health—ESPECIALLY HEALTH—I believe with every once of my being in knowing as much as humanly possible about the enemy! You must be a warrior on your own or a love one’s behalf: Know what the enemy looks like, what its habits are, its history, and what you need to do to fight it. You may not be able to answer all of these questions, but at least you’ll know what it is you’re fighting. I hope this humble blog will be of some help in your personal battle.

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Enemy #1: The Bartonella Bacteria. Photo by: public health alert

Just A Bit of Science

For those who fear science, I promise to make this as painless as possible. Every known living thing on the planet has at least two Latin (sometimes Greek or Arabic) names: A genus (which can be thought of as a broad “family” name) and a species (which describes an individual in a “family.” )

For example, a red oak tree is Quercus rubra. The genus is Quercus and the species is rubra. Humans are Homo sapiens; a common turnip is a Brassica rapa; the common dog tapeworm is Dipylidium caninum. The reason science uses such specific terms is not because we are elitist trying to impress the everyday person, but rather to avoid confusion when communicating with each other. That is, a doctor in Bangladesh, China, or Iceland will all know exactly what each other is talking about. This leads to the point of this blog: The bacteria that causes cat scratch fever is called Bartonella henselae.

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An True Unsung Hero

How the bacteria that causes cat scratch fever got its name is quite an interesting story. There is a disease (known by its medical term as verruga peruana) that has effected humans living in the high Peruvian Andes Mountains for over 5000 years. Pre-Inca pottery and stone carvings show victims with numerous, red, wart-like skin nodules all over their bodies.

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Ancient Inca Pottery Showing Carrion’s Disease: Photo by xsierrav.blogspot.com/

Fast forward to 1885: a young Peruvian medical student convinced that there was a link between that disease and another fatal disease known locally as Oroya fever, inoculated himself with blood taken from a patient with verruga peruana warts. Dr. Daniel Alcides Carrión Garcia subsequently went on to acquire symptoms of Oroya fever (severe fever and anemia (low red blood cell count), muscle pain and jaundice) and shortly thereafter, diedfrom his experiment.

But he had proved that Oroya fever was just the early phase of the chronic disease, verruga peruana. In honor of his sacrifice for the good of science and humanity, the combined sicknesses are now known as Carrión disease. October 5th, the day he died, is known as Peruvian Medicine Day.

 

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Highway where Dr. Carrion made his discovery. Photo by: itg.author-e.eu/

Dr. Bartonella

Moving ahead a few more years: In 1905, a disease characterized by high fever, anemia and quick death broke out among railroad workers building a railway between Lima and La Oroya, a mining town in the Andes. Another Peruvian scientist named Alberto Leonardo Barton determined that the outbreak was another form of Carrión disease.

As a result of his studies, he was able to isolate and identify a bacteria that whose genus (part of its scientific “family” name) ultimately went on to be called Bartonella. Scientist have so far, by my last count, identified 14 other species of this bacteria.

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Photo by: http://www.pitt.edu/

The Last Part of the Puzzle

It then wasn’t until around 1985 that a microbiologist named Diane Hensel , while working with AIDS patients at an Oklahoma Hospital, identified and isolated the specific agent responsible for causing cat scratch fever. In honor of this discovery, the science community named the new species of Bartonella after her, Bartonella henselae.

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Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2008 Jun; 14(6)

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