Introduction: Bartonella is an emerging infection found in cities, suburbs, and rural locations. Routine national labs offer testing for only 2 species, but at least 9 have been discovered as human infections within the last 15 years. Some authors discuss Bartonella cases having atypical presentations, with serious morbidity considered uncharacteristic of more routine Bartonella infections. Some atypical findings include distortion of vision, abdominal pain, severe liver and spleen tissue abnormalities, thrombocytopenic purpura, bone infection, arthritis, abscesses, heart tissue and heart valve problems. While some articles discuss Bartonella as a cause of neurologic illnesses, psychiatric illnesses have received limited attention. Case reports usually do not focus on psychiatric symptoms and typically only as incidental comorbid findings. In this article, we discuss patients exhibiting new-onset agitation, panic attacks, and treatment-resistant depression, all of which may be attributed to Bartonella.
Methods: Three patients receiving care in an outpatient clinical setting developed acute onset personality changes and agitation, depression, and panic attacks. They were retrospectively examined for evidence of Bartonella infections. The medical and psychiatric treatment progress of each patient was tracked until both were significantly resolved and the Bartonella was cured.
Results: The patients generally seemed to require higher dosing of antidepressants, benzodiazepines, or antipsychotics in order to function normally. Doses were reduced following antibiotic treatment and as the presumed signs of Bartonella infection remitted. All patients improved significantly following treatment and returned to their previously healthy or near-normal baseline mental health status.
Discussion: New Bartonella species are emerging as human infections. Most do not have antibody or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic testing at this time. Manual differential examinations are of unknown utility, due to many factors such as low numbers of infected red blood cells, the small size of the infecting bacteria, uncertainty of current techniques in viewing such small bacteria, and limited experience. As an emerging infection, it is unknown whether Bartonella occurrence in humans worldwide is rare or common, without further information from epidemiology, microbiology, pathology, and treatment outcomes research.
Conclusion: Three patients presented with acute psychiatric disorders associated with Bartonella-like signs and symptoms. Each had clear exposure to ticks or fleas and presented with physical symptoms consistent with Bartonella, eg, an enlarged lymph node near an Ixodes tick bite and bacillary angiomatosis found only in Bartonella infections. Laboratory findings and the overall general course of the illnesses seemed consistent with Bartonella infection. The authors are not reporting that these patients offer certain proof of Bartonella infection, but we hope to raise the possibility that patients infected with Bartonella can have a variety of mental health symptoms. Since Bartonella can clearly cause neurologic disorders, we feel the presence of psychiatric disorders is a reasonable expectation.