Myths and Facts about Bartonella
I have been suffering from fatigue and memory problems for the past year. Should I be tested for Bartonella infection?
There are many reasons why people might experience fatigue and memory problems. It’s unlikely that Bartonella is the cause of these issues. Work with your healthcare provider to determine if a specialist is needed.
It is not appropriate to test people for Bartonella unless they have symptoms consistent with Bartonella infection after a recent cat scratch or have other specific risk factors, such as experiencing homelessness or exposure to fleas or body lice. There is no evidence that ticks spread Bartonella bacteria to people.
I got a tick bite. My friend said I should get tested for Bartonella. Is that true?
Testing is not recommended. To date, no study in the United States has shown that Bartonella can be transmitted to people by ticks. Transmission studies with ticks have only used mice and artificial feeding systems. A single study showed that one species of tick in Europe could transmit a specific species of Bartonella to mice in a laboratory setting.
Other studies have identified Bartonella in ticks, probably from ticks feeding on animals that are infected with Bartonella. This doesn’t mean that the tick can spread the bacteria to a person or that the bacteria can survive in the tick for any length of time.
For more information about tickborne disease coinfections and their frequency, see Lyme Disease Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).
I was told that I may have a chronic Bartonella infection. Should I take long-term antibiotics?
If you have been diagnosed with a chronic Bartonella infection, you may want to consider getting a second opinion from an infectious disease specialist. An infectious disease specialist will be able to use the most appropriate laboratory tests and take a detailed medical history. Different types of Bartonella infections require different approaches, depending on the symptoms.
Before you consider long-term antibiotic treatment for symptoms attributed to a chronic Bartonella infection, talk to your healthcare provider about the possible risks of such treatment. Repeated or long courses of antibiotics can result in antibiotic resistance, chronic diarrhea, and infections, including Clostridium difficile infection. For these reasons, long-term antibiotic treatment should be avoided in most cases.
I heard that there are newer testing methods from laboratories that specialize in Bartonella testing. Are these new tests accurate?
Although CDC typically recommends FDA-cleared tests, there are not currently any Bartonella tests on the market that meet this standard. There are some things that you should keep in mind when evaluating the accuracy of a lab test.
- Be aware that while some labs may report that their tests are 100% accurate, this is unrealistic—the potential for false positives and false negatives almost always exists.
- It is important for all abnormal test results to be interpreted with your healthcare provider in the context of your medical history.
Should Bartonella tests be repeated to determine that my infection is gone?
No. The most common tests for Bartonella infections detect antibodies made by the immune system to fight off the bacteria. Your immune system continues to make the antibodies for months or years after the infection is gone. This means that once your blood tests positive, it will continue to test positive for months to years even though the bacteria are no longer present.
I received a test result that says I am positive for a species of Bartonella that’s not on the CDC website. What does that mean?
Other Bartonella spp. (for example, B. vinsonii, B. elizabethae) have been described to cause illness in people. These infections are extremely rare and test results should be interpreted with caution. Consult an infectious disease specialist who will be able to interpret these test results along with your clinical signs and symptoms and exposure history.
- Telford SR and Wormser GP. Bartonella spp. transmission by ticks not established. Emerg Infect Dis. 2010 Mar;16(3):379-84.
- Lantos PM, Wormser GP. Chronic coinfections in patients diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease: a systematic reviewexternal icon. Am J Med. 2014 Nov;127(11):1105-10.