Worryingly, this link between cats and mental illness is getting stronger.
A new study has found that a bacteria known to cause cat scratch fever disease – named for cats’ tendency to spread it through bites and scratches – is more often found in the bloodstream of schizophrenics than people without the mental disorder.
The research, published this month in the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, looked at only a small contingent of people and is not definitive. But it adds to a growing body of work that supports that infection with Bartonella bacteria can cause neurological problems.
“Our research to date still supports a role for Bartonella species as a cause or co-factor in neuropsychiatric disorders,” study author Edward Breitschwerdt, who has been studying the bacteria for years, told Gizmodo. “Much work remains to be done to clarify these preliminary results.”
Breitschwerdt previously worked on a study of a 14-year-old Midwestern boy who suddenly developed psychosis-like symptoms after being scratched by his cat.
Historically, before the psychiatric symptoms started, the boy was socially, athletically and academically active, as evidenced by participation in national geography and history competitions, and a protagonist in a school play, winning an award for fencing and excellent course grades , ”reported a 2019 study by Breitschwerdt on the boy, who was initially diagnosed with schizophrenia.
He was once placed in a psychiatric prison for a week after saying he was a “wicked, damned son of the devil,” according to a report at the time.
Doctors quickly began to search the boy’s medical records, hoping for answers that would explain the boy’s sudden bizarre behavior.
After many years in and out of hospitals, they discovered that he was, in fact, suffering from a Bartonella infection. After receiving antibiotics to treat the infection, the boy made a “full recovery”.
Late last year, Breitschwerdt published a study in the journal Pathogens in which 33 participants, 29 of whom were found to be infected with Bartonella, had self-reported neuropsychiatric symptoms. The findings of that study also reported that there is a link between the bacteria and a mental illness.