Photo gallery: Chronicling the health threat of bartonellosis to veterinarians, team members

Photo gallery: Chronicling the health threat of bartonellosis to veterinarians, team members

Nov 26, 2010
By staff
New Science

It's a flea-transmitted zoonotic disease that has been recognized for more than 100 years. But recent scientific reports about bartonellosis are shedding light on new health risks associated with frequent contact with sick animals. For Olney, Md. veterinarian Wendy Walker (photo), who battled a chronic bartonellosis for more than 20 years, this disease can be incredibly invasive. She credits a riding accident with her horse Pickford (photo) as the event that finally helped doctors diagnose the chronic form of this disease.

A culprit

Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University

This transmission electron microscopy is of Bartonella melophagi, a species isolated from sheep and humans. More than 26 species of Bartonella have been identified to date. Clinical symptoms can include endocarditis, polyarthritis, bacillary angiomatosis, myocarditis, uveitis and more.


Impact player

Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University

This infectious bacteria, says noted expert Edward Breitschwerdt of North Carolina State University, may change the dynamics of the human-animal bond. Potentially, it's a big impact from such a small bacteria. Bartonella have been isolated from multiple animal species, not just cats. And eight research papers on human infections published in the last two years are quickly debunking two commonly held beliefs: Cat-scratch disease is self limiting and it only causes chronic bacteremia in immunocompromised people.

Click here to read DVM Newsmagazine's interview with Breitschwerdt.


Canine casualty

Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University

Meet Tumbleweed, the first dog isolated with Bartonella vinsonii berkhoffi by researchers at North Carolina State University. The dog suffered from polyarthritis, weight loss, seizures, vasculitis, and later it developed epistaxis and endocarditis. Canines are an excellent model to study human bartonellosis.


The accident happened all too quickly. Her horse Pickford was spooked and threw Walker (photo), severely breaking the bones in her shoulder. Shortly after the accident, complications developed, and ironically, the resulting symptoms finally gave Walker a diagnosis, which eluded her for nearly two decades.

Pervasive menace

The symptoms started as fibromyalgia for the 55-year-old veterinarian (photo, left). She then lost use of her right arm. She was treated for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other health problems. She went through four arthroscopic knee surgeries, but the cause of her disease eluded multiple physicians and specialists. After she sustained shoulder injuries from an equine riding accident with horse Pickford, Walker's knee "shot up to the size of a basketball." It was at this time that physicians thought she was chronically infected with Lyme disease. It was actually pseudogout, and the episode was thought to be triggered by her battle with bartonellosis. In this photo, Dr. Wendy Walker and office manager Tracy Vargas (photo, right), both diagnosed with chronic bartonellosis, tend to a feline patient.

Click here for Walker's story.

Misunderstood disease

Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University

Those suffering from bartonellosis can often be misdiagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, explains Bartonella expert and rheumatologist Bobak Robert Mozayeni, MD, who is based in North Bethesda, Md. "We are about to enter an era that awareness of chronic infection and its role in human disease is just beginning to emerge," he says. This is a microscopic image of Bartonella vinsonii berkhoffi Type II.

Click here for the full story.



Working when she can

Bartonellosis has taken its toll on Vargas both personally and professionally. While dealing with the condition has taken time away from being with her family, it has also cut her six-day-a-week work schedule down to four.


Not quite ready to run

After contracting bartonellosis, Vargas is working hard to get back into her fitness routine, which once featured five runs per week. These days, simply walking is enough to take her breath away.

More careful than ever

While she doesn’t know how she contracted bartonellosis, Vargas has become extremely cautious when handling animals in order to prevent bites or scratches.


Lessons learned

"What became rapidly clear, as we tested sick veterinarians, was the fact that a rather high percentage of people — up to 50 percent depending on the population that we looked at — were actually infected with one or more Bartonella species," explains NCSU's Dr. Edward Breitschwerdt. Walker (photo) hopes that her 20-year battle with chronic bartonellosis can help other veterinarians or technicians seek the right treatment faster when presenting with signs of this disease.

See our full package on <I>Bartonella</I> by clicking here.