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Volume 18, Number 11—November 2012

Bartonella spp. Bacteremia and Rheumatic Symptoms in Patients from Lyme Disease–endemic Region

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In Response: We offer the following comments to Beard et al. (1) and Raoult (2) regarding their respective responses to our recent article (3). Before 1990, Bartonella species were not known to infect animals or humans in North America. If not for the AIDS epidemic, the expansion of literature about Bartonella spp. might not have occurred (Figure). In 2010, in collaboration with Raoult (4), we posed a question in Emerging Infectious Diseases, “Could ticks transmit Bartonella spp.?” That article elicited an editorial response emphasizing the lack of evidence supporting tick transmission of Bartonella spp. (5). Subsequently, Bartonella birtlesii transmission by Ixodes ricinus ticks was proven experimentally (6).

We now hope that this article will stimulate others to investigate a potential role for Bartonella spp. in rheumatologic diseases. Whether caused by politics or priorities, over the past 22 years, National Institutes of Health funding for Bartonella spp. research has been minimal and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not critically investigated the medical impact of this genus of bacteria in US citizens. On 2 occasions, researchers at CDC declined to examine serum from these patients for antibodies against Borrelia burgdorferi. Because our research was not funded by any governmental agency, testing beyond our focus was not financially feasible.

We do not agree with the assertion that our study “contains serious flaws in content and underlying message, including a poorly defined study population, lack of appropriate controls, improper use of the term bacteremia, and incongruent laboratory findings.” As indicated in the Materials and Methods section of our article, a physician, B. Robert Mozayeni, recipient of a Yale residency and rheumatology fellowship and predoctoral and postdoctoral molecular immunology fellowships at the National Institutes of Health, selected all study participants. In this exploratory cross-sectional study, entry criteria were not rigid and controls were not selected at patient recruitment but were defined later from the study population. Strikingly, serologic and molecular prevalence was higher among selected patients than among occupationally high-risk veterinary professionals (7) tested in the same laboratory by using the same diagnostic techniques. In our article, associations were reported, causation was not argued, and caution in results interpretation was addressed in the discussion.

Bacteremia is defined as the presence of bacteria in the blood. To suggest that agar plate isolation is the only way to document bacteremia is inappropriate. B. burgdoferi does not grow on an agar plate, and its isolation was challenging before development of insect-based liquid growth media. PCR testing is routinely used in human and veterinary medicine to diagnose bacteremic infections by Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, hemotrophic Mycoplasma, and Rickettsia spp. For example, Ehrlichia ewingii, a recognized pathogen of canids and humans, has never been successfully isolated, whereas bacteremia is routinely diagnosed by using PCR.

In the spirit of collaboration, we have distributed Bartonella α Proteobacteria growth medium, an insect cell culture-based growth medium developed at and patented by North Carolina State University, to researchers around the world. Recipients included Michael Kosoy at CDC, who subsequently used this medium to isolate Candidatus Bartonella tamiae from febrile patients in Thailand (8). Subsequent studies have validated insect cell culture-based media for growth of Bartonella spp. For reasons that remain less than clear, there is incongruence between results of serologic testing and results of enrichment blood culture and PCR, which was addressed in our discussion and previous publications (7). In contrast to reports of the lack of antibodies in some bacteremic patients, we have reported specific serologic responses to infecting Bartonella spp. (9,10). The dated references provided by the correspondents relative to serologic testing do not address our bacteremic study population or their diseases.

We agree with Raoult that sensitive and specific diagnostic tests are critically needed to define the pathophysiology of bartonellosis. We also agree that bartonellosis is not borreliosis, and the 2 diseases should not be confused by patients, advocacy groups, Lyme disease researchers, or governmental agencies.


Ricardo G. Maggi, B. Robert Mozayeni, Elizabeth L. Pultorak, Barbara C. Hegarty, Julie M. Bradley, Maria Correa, and Edward B. BreitschwerdtComments to Author 
Author affiliations: Author affiliations: College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA (R.G. Maggi, E.L. Pultorak, B.C. Hegarty, J.M. Bradley, M. Correa, E.B. Breitschwerdt); Translational Medicine Group, P.C., North Bethesda, Maryland, USA (B.R. Mozayeni)



  1. Beard  CB, Nelson  CA, Mead  PS, Petersen  LR. Bartonella spp. bacteremia and rheumatic symptoms in patients from Lyme disease–endemic region [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis. 2012;18:19189.
  2. Raoult  D. Bartonella spp. bacteremia and rheumatic symptoms in patients from Lyme disease–endemic region [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis. 2012;18:1919.
  3. Maggi  RG, Mozayeni  BR, Pultorak  EL, Hegarty  BC, Bradley  JM, Correa  M, Bartonella spp. bacteremia and rheumatic symptoms in patients from Lyme disease–endemic region. Emerg Infect Dis. 2012;18:78391. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Angelakis  E, Billeter  SA, Breitschwerdt  EB, Chomel  BB, Raoult  D. Potential for tick-borne bartonelloses. Emerg Infect Dis. 2010;16:38591. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Telford  SR III, Wormser  GP. Bartonella spp. transmission by ticks not established. Emerg Infect Dis. 2010;16:37984. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Reis  C, Cote  M, Le Rhun  D, Lecuelle  B, Levin  ML, Vayssier-Taussat  M, Vector competence of the tick Ixodes ricinus for transmission of Bartonella birtlesii. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011;5:e1186. Epub 2011 May 31. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Maggi  RG, Mascarelli  PE, Pultorak  EL, Hegarty  BC, Bradley  JM, Mozayeni  BR, Bartonella spp. bacteremia in high-risk immunocompetent patients. Diagn Microbiol Infect Dis. 2011;71:4307. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Kosoy  M, Morway  C, Sheff  KW, Bai  Y, Colborn  J, Chalcraft  L, Bartonella tamiae sp. nov., a newly recognized pathogen isolated from three human patients from Thailand. J Clin Microbiol. 2008;46:7725. Epub 2007 Dec 12. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Oliveira  AM, Maggi  RG, Woods  CW, Breitschwerdt  EB. Suspected needle stick transmission of Bartonella vinsonii subspecies berkhoffii to a veterinarian. J Vet Intern Med. 2010;24:122932. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Breitschwerdt  EB, Mascarelli  PE, Schweickert  LA, Maggi  RG, Hegarty  BC, Bradley  JM, Hallucinations, sensory neuropathy, and peripheral visual deficits in a young woman infected with Bartonella koehlerae. J Clin Microbiol. 2011;49:34157. Epub 2011 Jul 6. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar




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DOI: 10.3201/eid1811.121226

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Edward B. Breitschwerdt, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, 4700 Hillsborough St, Raleigh, NC 27606, USA

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