Cats can tolerate a Bartonella infection much better than humans can.  Until recently, in fact, veterinarians considered Bartonella infection to be of little concern for the health of cats.  The latest research is changing minds.  Emerging evidence suggests that Bartonella infection is actually associated with a broad range of inflammatory symptoms in cats. 

Veterinarians represent the frontlines of public health surveillance where zoonotic infections, like Bartonella, are concerned.  Some veterinarians, like Lori Blankenship and her colleagues at Animals First Veterinary Service, are already recommending that pet owners screen their cats for Bartonella infection.  Bartonella infections can be life threatening for people with poor immune systems (e.g., cause severe complications in HIV patients), so screening cats is particularly important for households that include people with low/poor immune function.

What are the risks for pet owners?

Research estimates that about half of all cats are naturally infected with Bartonella henselae.  Prevalence rates may be as high as 80% in feral cats and as low as 1/3 of household pets.  Recent evidence further suggests that veterinarians and other animal workers are at higher risk of Bartonella infection.  But what about pet owners?

The answer right now is that we don’t know for sure because targeted clinical studies are needed.  However, the latest research does suggest that pet owners should be on the alert for persistent symptoms following bites and scratches or exposure to fleas, ticks, lice, and potentially biting flies.

Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) is considered to be a self-limiting, immune response in humans (e.g., swollen lymph nodes).  In 2008, the CDC reported an incident rate of 22,000 confirmed cases of Cat Scratch Disease with only  2,000 hospitalizations.  However, more recent findings suggest that atypical presentations of Bartonella infection may be more common than previously understood.

Research implicates Bartonella infection in persistent symptoms affecting the joints, neurological system, and vascular system.  Symptoms can range from flu-like symptoms to more serious issues, like vision loss, numbness in hands and feet, or even seizures.  Like Lyme Disease, Bartonella infection is a difficult infection to diagnose and can be difficult to treat in some patients.


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For more information on the latest findings, see:

Review article on public health implications of Bartonellosis in cats and dogs.

Research study on Bartonella infection in people with high rates of animal exposure