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Disease caused by insect bites can be transmitted to children at birth
Date:5/3/2010

A North Carolina State University researcher has discovered that bacteria transmitted by fleasand potentially tickscan be passed to human babies by the mother, causing chronic infections and raising the possibility of bacterially induced birth defects.

Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, professor of internal medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences, is among the world's leading experts on Bartonella, a bacteria that is maintained in nature by fleas, ticks and other biting insects, but which can be transmitted by infected cats and dogs as well. The most commonly known Bartonella-related illness is cat scratch disease, caused by B. henselae, a strain of Bartonella that can be carried in a cat's blood for months to years. Cat scratch disease was thought to be a self-limiting, or "one-time" infection; however, Breitschwerdt's previous work discovered cases of children and adults with chronic, blood-borne Bartonella infectionsfrom strains of the bacteria that are most often transmitted to cats (B. henselae) and dogs (B. vinsonii subsp. berkhoffii) by fleas and other insects.

In his most recent case study, Breitschwerdt's research group tested blood and tissue samples taken over a period of years from a mother, father and son who had suffered chronic illnesses for over a decade. Autopsy samples from their daughterthe son's twin who died shortly after birthcontained DNA evidence of B. henselae and B. vinsonii subsp. berkhoffi infection, which was also found in the other members of the family.

Both parents had suffered recurring neurological symptoms including headaches and memory loss, as well as shortness of breath, muscle weakness and fatigue before the children were born. In addition, their 10-year-old son was chronically ill from birth and their daughter died due to a heart defect at nine days of age.

Results of the parents' medical histories and the microbiological test
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Contact: Tracey Peake
tracey_peake@ncsu.edu
919-515-6142
North Carolina State University
Source:Eurekalert

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