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Teen's Rapid 'Schizophrenia' Turns Out To Be A Severe Case Of 'Cat Scratch Disease'

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Cat Scratch Fever sounds like something straight out of fiction (and it has certainly featured in stories before), but it is all too real. Also called Cat Scratch Disease, or Bartonellosis, it is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae.

An otherwise healthy 14-year-old young man found out about this infection the hard way.


According to Science Alert, the patient presented to doctors with a range of psychiatric symptoms including delusions and threats of suicide.

They initially assumed it to be a case of rapid-onset schizophrenia, but traditional treatment for the psychiatric disorder did almost nothing to ease the patient's symptoms.

The patient had some success with medication, which reduced his suicidal and homicidal impulses, but he continued to suffer other disruptions.

Science Alert described his symptoms:

"Over the following weeks he became increasingly dysfunctional, full of outbursts of rage and irrational fears, making his normal life impossible. Somewhat ominously, he even suspected the family cat was out to kill him."

Almost 10 months after he initially showed symptoms, the patient's parents noticed a suspicious rash on his thigh and ankle. This was doctors' first clue that there might be something entirely different going on.

The rash closely resembled the long reddish stretch marks that many teens are prone to from growth spurts, so it is easy to understand why it may have been overlooked previously.

It was ultimately this rash that led a physician who saw the patient in early 2017 to make the connection between his symptoms and B. henselae, and to recommend appropriate treatment for the infection.

A condition called neurobartonellosis, the impact of bartonellosis on the brain, has been known to cause confusion and irregular behavior in the past.

Cat scratch disease causes some scary looking symptoms, but it treatable:

Cat Scratch Disease | Causes, Symptoms and Treatment www.youtube.com


After a course of antimicrobial chemotherapy, the patient's symptoms improved, and he was able to return to his life.

Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, who is a Melanie S. Steele Distinguished Professor of Internal Medicine at NC State University and lead author on the case report for the incident, described the case as "interesting for a number of reasons."

"Beyond suggesting that Bartonella infection itself could contribute to progressive neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, it raises the question of how often infection may be involved with psychiatric disorders generally."
"Researchers are starting to look at things like infection's role in Alzheimer's disease, for example. Beyond this one case, there's a lot of movement in trying to understand the potential role of viral and bacterial infections in these medically complex diseases.
"This case gives us proof that there can be a connection, and offers an opportunity for future investigations."

Human brains are an extremely complex organ and we still don't fully understand the way they work, let alone how they might be affected by pathogens.

This case study, and others like it could open the door to new research and greater understanding of that interaction.

You can help to prevent Cat Scratch Disease by being careful of how you play with cats, and how you treat any bites or scratches you receive.

According to the CDC:

"About 40% of cats carry B. henselae at some time in their lives, although most cats with this infection show NO signs of illness."

They caution to never let cats to lick your wounds, and to promptly wash any cat scratch or bite wounds with soap and running water.