Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt

Exposing a Hidden Epidemic

Ever been bitten by a flea or scratched by a cat? If so, then you may have been exposed to a bacterium called Bartonella. Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, who’s been studying this dangerous microbe for decades, says you’re not alone.

“It’s pretty obvious that most people may not get through life without being exposed to one or more Bartonella species,” he says.

If you’re lucky, your immune system kicks in and handles the microscopic invader. Otherwise, you may be in for a good deal of grief.

Breitschwerdt, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases, recently ran tests on a family that had been suffering from chronic illnesses for years. Both parents had suffered recurring neurological symptoms, including headaches and memory loss, as well as shortness of breath, muscle weakness and fatigue before their children were born. In addition, their 10-year-old son had been chronically ill from birth, and his twin sister died due to a heart defect at nine days of age.

Blood and tissue samples, including autopsy samples from the daughter, confirmed that the family had been infected with Bartonella for at least a decade.

The findings are sobering.

“We have historically blamed Bartonella transmission on bites or scratches from animals and on insects biting someone,” Breitschwerdt says. “Now there is the possibility that transmission is occurring from mother to child.”

Breitschwerdt recently helped launch a company in Research Triangle Park, Galaxy Diagnostics, to test animals and people for Bartonella infection.