Teenager ‘developed schizophrenia-like symptoms’ after being scratched by a cat

Rob Waugh
It looks so innocent (Getty)

A teenager who developed schizophrenia-like symptoms including a fear he was a son of the devil and would kill his family actually had a bacterial infection – caused by a cat scratch.

The 14-year-old developed symptoms including phobias and a fear that the family cat wanted to kill him.

He was treated for psychosis for 18 months, unsuccessfully, until a doctor recognised lesions on his skin associated with the bacteria Bartonella.

The patient tested postiive for the infection – and antimicrobial treatments led to a full recovery.

Bartonella is a bacteria most commonly associated with cat scratch disease, which until recently was thought to be a short-lived (or self-limiting) infection.

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‘This case is interesting for a number of reasons,’ Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, Melanie S. Steele Distinguished Professor of Internal Medicine at NC State and lead author, in a statement.

‘Beyond suggesting that Bartonella infection itself could contribute to progressive neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, it raises the question of how often infection may be involved with psychiatric disorders generally.

‘Researchers are starting to look at things like infection’s role in Alzheimer’s disease, for example. Beyond this one case, there’s a lot of movement in trying to understand the potential role of viral and bacterial infections in these medically complex diseases. This case gives us proof that there can be a connection, and offers an opportunity for future investigations.’

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