Why Bartonella is the New Lyme Disease
Updated: May 20
I was recently interviewed on Lyme Talk Radio about Bartonella. In case you missed it, here is a transcript of our discussion on why Bartonella is the new Lyme Disease.
Q: Our research is now indicating that Lyme disease is deadly. Even when people may suspect they have Lyme symptoms, they will not get anything further than the typical CDC test. What is happening?
Dr. Dempsey: There is a fear factor and people don’t want to know. They have seen family members and friends suffer and for them to get the diagnosis, they think it is a death sentence. The second reason is from the medical world. The thought is if they test the patient for Lyme disease and it is CDC negative that’s the end of the workup. The problem is that even if patients are lucky enough that their doctor is thinking about Lyme and they are willing to get tested, if the Lyme is negative, the hunt stops there. The medical world is not thinking about the other vector born infections that are coming from ticks or other insects. They need to think about the other diseases.
Q: Can you talk about co-infections?
Dr. Dempsey: The common co-infections that we think about are Anaplasma, Babesia, and Bartonella. Those are the common ones that Lyme disease doctors are treating, but they aren’t really co-infections, in my opinion. Each of them cause significant illness all on their own. I have patients that do not have Lyme disease, for example, but they still test positive for those other infections.
Q: Can you tell me about Lyme disease and the tick born infections that are now associated with it?
Dr. Dempsey: These infections, particularly Bartonella, can affect every organ in the body. You are going to see symptoms that overlap so many other diseases that people are being diagnosed with and that’s why it is confusing. These patients are chronically ill, they have gone to numerous doctors, and if the doctors can’t fully explain the symptoms, they try to give them a diagnosis, but it may not be the right diagnosis. One of the things that I’m seeing is that Bartonella and other insect born diseases cause a reaction called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. That is what is causing many of these symptoms that many of these Lyme disease patients are suffering from.
Q: What is the journey of the lyme-disease patient like?
Dr. Dempsey: The more patients I see, the more I learn. Every patient is different. The inflammation we see in Lyme disease patients is a release of chemicals in the body and it leads to pain and depression. The question is why are these infections doing this? What is the root cause of the problem? If you get to the root cause of the problem, you change the patient’s life. The root cause, the way I think about it, is the infection. But there is another layer and that’s what I call MCAS. It’s a way of understanding the inflammation. The mast white blood cells are a line of defense against bad things that our bodies become exposed to. Those cells are known to deal with allergies but also infections and other things in our environment. They have histamine inside of them and if someone is, for example, allergic to pollen, the mast cells will explode histamine. Histamine causes the eyes to run and the nose to run and the chest to get tight and all the allergic symptoms. These same mast cells can also react to and fight bartonella, lyme, mold, etc. Mast cells will react to anything that your body is coming in contact with that it determines is bad. Sometimes mast cells react when they are not supposed to- we call that Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. Inside these mast cells they can have over 200 different chemicals and when they explode (or degranulate) they can release these chemicals and cause tremendous inflammation. Many of my Lyme disease and Bartonella patients have GI symptoms, particularly kids. They have nausea, change in appetite, difficulty digesting, bowel issues, and the question is why? Is it the bug (Lyme, etc) or is it the mast cells getting irritated and exploding? If you deal with the MCAS and you block the effects, you can control many of the symptoms associated with it. But you still have to get to the root cause of what is potentially triggering the mast cells, you want to deal with the MCAS first.
Q: Everybody is talking about Lyme disease. People don’t know what the other diseases that come from Lyme are. Why does bartonella now need to take center stage?
Dr. Dempsey: Bartonella is transmitted by so many different vectors and many more than Lyme. So we are on high alert because of the ticks, and this year we are talking about a major issue because of the rise of the population of ticks. But the problem with Bartonella is that it is not only being transmitted by ticks, it is transmitted by flies, lice, fleas, mosquitos and even spiders. We are exposed to many different insects all the times so, understandably, Bartonella is much more widespread throughout the world than Lyme is. Mammals, in particular cats and dogs, are a major reservoir for this bacterial infection. In fact, cat scratch fever is the name given to an infection caused by one strain of Bartonella. There are cats that carry this infection and do not show symptoms, but they can still transmit it. Insects commonly transmit it by biting the animal that has the infection and then biting the next animal (in this case, a human).
Q: My cat doesn’t look sick so how do I know if my cat is carrying bartonella?
Dr. Dempsey: There are two ways you can deal with this. If you are having symptoms that look like Lyme or that no one can explain, and then you test positive, have your pets tested as well. Vets are more in tune to bartonella now a days and it is a fairly easy test to do. Should everyone be testing their pets for bartonella? I do wonder if this is something that we should consider.
Q: What lyme disease testing or bartonella testing is out there?
Dr. Dempsey: The testing for Lyme disease is not great for many reasons. The lab for Bartonella is called Galaxy Diagnostics, which was originally created for pets. It slowly became obvious that the owners of the pets were getting sick too so then they started testing these human pet owners and they were able to isolate the exact strain in the pet and in the human. They conduct a couple of different types of tests and they test for multiple strains of Bartonella including Bartonella Henselae and Bartonella Quintana. Galaxy also performs a PCR test that can detect over two dozen strains. That is the best lab for it. Be sure to ask your doctor for a Bartonella test.
Q: What types of autoimmune diseases are frequently seen by someone who has Bartonella symptoms?
Dr. Dempsey: We are seeing a lot of autoimmune diseases and are starting to understand the that immune system is probably trying to fight something else and it is actually turning against itself. In many cases, it can be Lyme disease or it can be Bartonella or it could be something toxic from the environment. What I see with Bartonella is a lot of hashimoto’s that effects the thyroid. And the thyroid is so important for the body. If your body is attacking it, that itself will cause a lot of symptoms and problems. The other thing I see a lot of is autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder. This is something that is affecting people of all ages, although it was once thought to only be a childhood illness known as PANS or PANDAS. Bartonella is often the trigger. What happens is that Bartonella has proteins that resemble our own and as our body tries to fight the bartonella it mistakes our body for the disease. Depression, anxiety and OCD are very common symptoms associated with Bartonella and the autoimmune encephalitis it causes. Depression and anxiety are so prevalent these days and I understand more than ever that there is a biological, organic trigger. There is a new test that can identify autoimmune encephalitis, the knowledge of which could be life changing for many patients who go through their lives not understanding why they have irrational thoughts and behaviors that don’t respond to tradition medication.
Q: What is the new test?
Dr. Dempsey: The Cunningham Panel is the new test. The lab is known as Moleculera and they measure 4 different antibodies that are antibodies to the nervous system and if you have 1 or more of these antibodies it is likely causing your symptoms. This helps my patients understand why they feel the way they feel.
Q: We now know that thyroid disease is hard to detect and it is because they are looking for something that is traditionally thyroid related. What are some of the questions that patients should be asking their doctors to get properly diagnosed?
Dr. Dempsey: There are several thyroid tests that patients should have at their screening. I have young people in my practice that have thyroid problems and everyone should be tested. Doctors are relying on testing different glands to find out what is wrong with the thyroid gland. You need to test the thyroid hormones- Free T3 and Free T4. You need to know what the thyroid is producing and not producing.
Q: What is the relationship between Bartonella and Diabetes?
Dr. Dempsey: Bartonella basically takes the endocrine system hostage. The metabolism changes and it also changes how the body processes the food we eat. What we see with Bartonella is that people develop insulin resistance. Their pancreas often does not work properly releasing too much or too little insulin, which over time can deplete insulin stores or make the insulin less effective. This can lead to diabetes. In addition, since Bartonella has been linked to autoimmunity, type 1 diabetes, which is autoimmune, is a possible side effect.
Another major symptom is weight gain. Eating more and working out isn’t going to help. You have to watch carbs and eat healthy, but that alone isn’t going to help. If someone has an infection underneath all of this, they won’t lose weight at all.
Q: We’ve got to find another way for people who are affected by chronic lyme disease to start talking about it. Is that going to be an approach that is going to help us gain a new understanding?
Dr. Dempsey: The approach has to be different. The question is how to reach people who don’t have lyme disease or don’t think they have lyme disease because they aren’t thinking about it. Bringing the awareness to them has to be innovative and different.
Q: What are you most hopeful about today?
Dr. Dempsey: In general, I am a very hopeful person. For me, just knowing that there are others out there that are on the same journey to educate people and bring solutions to suffering patients is encouraging. There are many lyme disease specialists out there fighting this fight. If I look back 10 years, it was very different. But we still have a long way to go.
BARTONELLA & MCAS