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Bartonellosis is an infectious bacterial disease with an acute form (which has a sudden onset and short course) and a chronic form (which has more gradual onset and longer duration). The disease is transmitted by sandflies and occurs in western South America. Characterized by a form of red blood cell deficiency (hemolytic anemia) and fever, the potentially fatal acute form is called Oroya fever or Carrion's disease. The chronic form is identified by painful skin lesions.
The acute form of the disease gets its name from an outbreak that occurred in 1871 near La Oroya, Peru. More than 7,000 people perished. Some survivors later developed a skin disease, called verruga peruana (Peruvian warts). These skin lesions were observed prior to the 1871 outbreak—perhaps as far back as the pre-Columbian era—but a connection to Oroya fever was unknown. In 1885, a young medical researcher, Daniel Carrion, inoculated himself with blood from a lesion to study the course of the skin disease. When he became ill with Oroya fever, the connection became apparent. Oroya fever is often called Carrion's disease in honor of his fatal experiment.
The bacteria, Bartonella bacilliformis, was isolated by Alberto Barton in 1909, but wasn't identified as the cause of the fever until 1940. The Bartonella genus includes at least 11 bacteria species, four of which cause human diseases, including cat-scratch disease and bacillary angiomatosis. However, bartonellosis refers exclusively to the disease caused by B. bacilliformis. The disease is limited to a small area of the Andes Mountains in western South America; nearly all cases have been in Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. A large outbreak involving thousands of people occurred in 1940–41, but bartonellosis has since occurred sporadically. Control of sand-flies, the only known disease carrier (vector), has been credited with managing the disease.
Bartonellosis is transmitted by the nocturnal sandfly and arises from infection with B. bacilliformis. The sand-fly, Lutzomyia verrucarum, dines on human blood and, in so doing, can inject bacteria into the bloodstream. The
Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria latch onto red blood cells (erythrocytes), burrow into the cells, and reproduce. In the process, up to 90% of the host's erythrocytes are destroyed, causing severe hemolytic anemia. The anemia is accompanied by high fever, muscle and joint pain, delirium, and possibly coma.
Two to eight weeks after the acute phase, an infected individual develops verruga peruana. However, individuals may exhibit the characteristic lesions without ever experiencing the acute phase. Left untreated, the lesions may last months or years. These lesions resemble blood-filled blisters, up to 1.6 in (4 cm) in diameter, and appear primarily on the head and limbs. They can be painful to the touch and may bleed or ulcerate.
Author Info: Julia Barrett, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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