In 2015, a 14-year-old patient developed rapid-onset schizophrenia with hallucinations, thoughts of suicide and homicide. He also believed his cat was trying to kill him, which was closer to the truth than you might think.
His pet cat was not, in fact, a homicidal maniac but it did harbor the pathogen Bartonella henselae, which is associated with ‘cat scratch disease.’
This bacterium is typically found in cat blood, particularly that of kittens, and just one bite or scratch can be enough to transmit the pathogen to humans, causing localized swelling and lesions, in addition to issues in the heart and nervous system.
Now, according to new research by scientists at North Carolina State University, in extremely rare cases, ‘cat scratch disease’ may also induce extreme schizophrenia.
The unnamed patient developed psychiatric symptoms in 2015, claiming to be the “damned son of the devil” while experiencing violent outbursts and suspecting that the family cat was trying to kill him.
Initial treatment with medication reduced his suicidal tendencies and violent impulses but was ineffective at stopping his psychosis. Medical experts were at a loss as to why the boy’s symptoms were so extreme and hard to treat. But then came an unexpected breakthrough.
Some 10 months later, the boy’s parents noticed red stripes across his skin which they had initially dismissed as stretch marks from a growth spurt. Thankfully, when they brought the boy to a doctor for a check up and mentioned the marks, this led the doctors treating him to the real culprit behind the patient’s extreme psychotic break; a cat-borne bacteria.
Having finally honed in on the cause, the medical team used antimicrobial chemotherapy, which ultimately proved to be the cure for his feline-induced psychosis. The patient no longer has any symptoms and has fully recovered both physically and mentally
“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,” veterinary medical scientist Ed Breitschwerdt said of the case.