Research Links Flea Bites with Chronic Infections, Possible Birth Defects
Excerpted from NC State University
A researcher in North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has discovered that bacteria transmitted by fleas–and potentially ticks–can be passed to human babies by the mother, causing chronic infections and raising the possibility of bacterially induced birth defects.
Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, professor of internal medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences and director of the CVM Intracellular Pathogens Research Laboratory, is among the world’s leading experts on Bartonella, a bacteria that is maintained in nature by fleas, ticks and other biting insects, but which can be transmitted by infected cats and dogs as well.
The most commonly known Bartonella-related illness is cat scratch disease, caused by B. henselae, a strain of Bartonella that can be carried in a cat’s blood for months to years. Cat scratch disease was thought to be a self-limiting, or “one-time” infection; however, Dr. Breitschwerdt’s previous work discovered cases of children and adults with chronic, blood-borne Bartonella infections–from strains of the bacteria that are most often transmitted to cats (B. henselae) and dogs (B. vinsonii subsp. berkhoffii) by fleas and other insects.
In his most recent case study, Dr. Breitschwerdt’s research group in the Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research, tested blood and tissue samples taken over a period of years from a mother, father and son who had suffered chronic illnesses for over a decade. Autopsy samples from their daughter–the son’s twin who died shortly after birth–contained DNA evidence of B. henselae and B. vinsonii subsp. berkhoffi infection, which was also found in the other members of the family.