DEAR DR. FOX: Two years ago, I started having short episodes of double vision, numbness on the right side of my face, diminished taste sensation and gait abnormality. For about a week, I had to walk with assistance and could not drive. My primary care doctor diagnosed me with central origin vertigo and ordered an MRA (to check blood flow to the brain) and an MRI of the brain. The brain showed some spots. I was then referred to a neurologist, who did a lumbar puncture. This confirmed a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
The diagnosis was devastating, even though I had no outward signs of the disease. I started taking the oral medication Tecfidera. As time passed, I developed a severe anxiety disorder, and I had obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I had a lot of other psych symptoms that I somehow managed to keep under control. I developed fears of everyday things, such as being afraid to make a pitcher of iced tea, take a shower or do the dishes; if you asked me why I was afraid, I couldn't tell you. I had turned into a person my husband didn't recognize.
My primary doctor prescribed Lexapro and then Buspar -- neither had any effect. Ativan was also ineffective. I then sought the help of a psychiatrist, who prescribed Zoloft and Seroquel, which helped very little, although they did help relieve some of the intense panic I felt all the time.
More symptoms started snowballing as time went on, such as sharp pains and pressure in my head and eyeballs, severe sensitivity to hot and cold on my teeth, neuropathylike symptoms in my lower legs and feet, burning patches of skin on various parts of my body and other odd sensations. I began to think something else was going on, so I started taking my temperature daily. I always ran a low-grade fever.
Having overcome Lyme disease about 10 years prior, I do have some knowledge of vector-borne diseases. I researched and started reading about the various diseases and considered the fact that I was infected with Bartonella, also known as cat-scratch fever. When I started reading about it, everything hit home with me.
I made an appointment with my previous vector-borne disease specialist and was tested for Bartonella. My titer was 1:256, which is very high! The abnormalities in my spinal fluid, brain spots and constant inflammation are most likely caused by the infection. It got to a point where my brain felt like it was sitting in a bowl of acid!
Being on the Tecfidera (an immuno-suppressant for MS costing over $6,000 a month) allowed the bacteria to become even more prolific.
My doctor and I discussed how I got infected. I do own a cat, and he has bitten and scratched me innocently during play. I recall one occasion when I got a deep bite on the thin skin on the back of my hand, so I figure that these bacteria had almost three years to multiply in my central nervous system! Oh, and it's not just from cats. It can be contracted from a dog or any animal, plus many insects.
I bypassed any flulike illnesses, swollen lymph nodes or other symptoms typically associated with Bartonella. (The same thing happened to me when I somehow contracted Lyme. No bite recalled, no rash, just started with neurological symptoms.)
I will be on three different antibiotics daily for several months. Some of the psych and neuro symptoms have resolved, but I still have a way to go. My case may be atypical, but all possibilities have to be considered when it comes to these vector-borne diseases. These are not cookie-cutter diseases! -- C.C., Cumberland, Maryland
DEAR C.C.: I am sure that many readers will sympathize with you and appreciate your clarion call for greater vigilance concerning this bacterial disease transmissible from cats and other animals to humans. Your experience is a warning to all cat owners to not let their cats roam free because they may pick up fleas that have fed on infected cats, putting family members at risk -- especially those with weak immune systems, notably the elderly and infants.
There are various strains of Bartonella, some specific to cats who get infected from fleas. Medical doctors should take note and never fail to inquire about the patients' exposure to animals in the home or outdoors and of course to ticks, fleas and other disease-transmitting insects when working up a diagnosis and deciding what tests to conduct. Various infectious organisms can cause non-specific auto-immune diseases depending on how the body reacts to them.
DOG DOMESTICATION/GENETICS STUDY
In a new study, geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt and colleagues compared the sociability of domestic dogs with that of wolves raised by humans. Dogs typically spent more time than wolves staring at and interacting with a human stranger nearby, showing that dogs were less fearful and more social than the wolves.
Comparative genetic analysis of those dogs and wolves, along with DNA data of other wolves and dogs, showed variations in three genes associated with the social behaviors directed at humans: WBSCR17, GTF2I and GTF2IRD1. Interestingly, all these are associated with the Williams-Beuren hypersociability syndrome in humans. Not all dogs, fortunately, are so affected to become what I have long-called “perpetual puppies.”
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