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  • Writer's pictureDr Shawn M. Carney

The Bartonella-Tick Transmission Controversy and Bartonella Infection

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Bartonella are known to be carried by fleas, which then introduce the infection to animals like cats, which can then spread disease to people. But is that the only way people get a Bartonella infection?

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On the topic of testing ticks and people who have been bitten by them for dangerous infections, one recurrent source of controversy is the testing of Bartonella species. Bartonella are known to be carried by fleas, which then introduce the infection to animals like cats, which can then spread disease to people. But it is debated as to whether or not that is the only way people get Bartonella infections. And why is this even much of a concern? Because there is reason to believe that Bartonella are widespread among ticks, yet the infections they can cause in people are often not tested for! For example back in 2004, a study from New Jersey found over 30% of ticks sampled carried Lyme disease and a near equal amount harbored Bartonella species. (1)

Ticks Can Transmit Bartonella Bacteria

Direct proof of transmission of Bartonella species by a tick was reported way back in 1926 when experimental transmission of Bartonella bacilliformis ( cause of Oroya fever) to monkeys by Rocky Mountain wood ticks was done. In this study , ticks were allowed to feed on infected monkeys for 5 days. After removal, partially engorged ticks were placed on healthy monkeys in which disease developed. This study showed that ticks could acquire and transmit the bacteria. (2)

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Much more recent studies have shown different types of ticks transmitting Bartonella henselae, the causative agent of cat-scratch fever, across artificial feeding systems. (3, 4)

So we know Bartonella is around, is found in many ticks, and that they can transmit disease, but it's just often not being tested in for in people or in ticks. In fact, at this writing, it is still the CDC’s official position to discourage testing for Bartonella after a person is bit by a tick! (5)

Obviously, there is so much more to be said on this topic. After all, if they don't look for something, they are never going to find it! That is why it is imperative that people take initiative and be their own advocates in health care. Sadly, the art of medicine is often lost and degenerated into symptom-management, with providers just following rote scripted flowcharts without thinking about the quagmire of testing limitations and pandemic proportions of tick-borne illness. (6, 7)

You Can Test Ticks for Bartonella, Just Not Everywhere

Any tick that has bitten a person should be identified and if it is a known vector for disease, like the black-legged deer tick, it should be tested to see what DNA for infectious microbes it was harboring. If you are in an endemic area, often local health departments offer free testing of the tick. However, the number of possible organisms they test for is usually limited to just a few. Consider private laboratories like Igenex Inc. or Med Zu Inc., which runs

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The content and any recommendations in this article are for informational purposes only. They are not intended to replace the advice of the reader's own licensed healthcare professional or physician and are not intended to be taken as direct diagnostic or treatment directives. Any treatments described in this article may have known and unknown side effects and/or health hazards. Each reader is solely responsible for his or her own healthcare choices and decisions. The author advises the reader to discuss these ideas with a licensed naturopathic physician.


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