A USDA report published last November revealed that sand flies — tiny, winged gnats often called no-see-ums — were biting troops in Iraq as many as 1,000 times in a single night.
These pests are also rife in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan.
The unexpected arrival of Lyme disease (one soldier in particular) showed a classic bulls-eye rash but worked in a garage all day and had no exposure to ticks nor any memory of a tick bite) has caused many to scratch their heads. Could the sand flies be spreading Lyme?
The National Academies Press published a book in 2007 entitled “Gulf War and Health” in 5 volumes, with the fifth volume focused specifically on infectious diseases (Authors:Abigail E. Mitchell, Laura B. Sivitz, Robert E. Black, Editors, Committee on Gulf War and Health: Infectious Diseases.)
There were approximately 100 infectious diseases that were identified for consideration based on illness contracted by our soldiers – some becoming acute and even fatal immediately and others causing stealthy damage that wasn’t detected or treated until coming home to the US. Surprisingly, many on the list are familiar to those of us with chronic Lyme:
- Borellia burgdoferi
- Bartonella [henselae (cat scratch fever) and quintana (trench fever)]
- Chlamidya Pneumoniae (CPN)
- Bartonella [heselae (cat scratch fever) and quintana (trench fever)]
- Relapsing Fever (Borrelia)
- Q Fever
Some answers may be found by studying the enormous problem US troops have experienced in the Middle East with ferocious Iraq sand fleas (which are actually Phlebotomine sand flies). In 2003, The American Patriot Friends Network (http://www.apfn.net) reported that “An Unknown illness sweeps US troops: THE outbreak of pneumonia-like symptoms in US troops serving in Iraq could be the harbinger of a new and potentially enormous wave of Gulf war syndrome cases, according to American veterans’ organizations and defense analysts.”
Looking at the extensive list of Lyme-related infections it is easy to make the connection between “unknown illness” and Lyme, especially when you consider the chronic nature of the Gulf War Syndrome. Nobody has been thinking about Lyme and co-infections because of the lack of ticks, however with the enormous numbers of sand fly bites, you have to consider the possibility. In fact many military bases instituted immediate disqualification of potential blood donors returning from Iraq due to the diseases transmitted by sand flies, especially Leishmaniasis.
Scott Forsgren writes a very compelling article about how the war contributed (and continues to contribute) to the spread of Mycoplasma. Read it here.
Dr. Rick Sponaugle, founder of Sponaugle Wellness Center located just outside Tampa, Florida, has written the following article regarding the possible connection between the continued spread of Bartonella and the war.
Is the Iraq War Partly Responsible for the Surge of Bartonella Infections in America
I found the study below from University of California Davis both alarming and thought provoking. It reveals that 47 percent of the domestic dogs tested in Iraq had an active Bartonella infection. The infection rate is potentially much higher because the antibody testing they used has far more false negatives than testing with actual blood smears.
Are our troops getting exposed to more Bartonella in Iraq than they would here in America?
The answer is most likely yes. Americans spend more money on their pets than Iraqi citizens. They treat their pets for fleas and they often pay their Veterinarian to test their dogs and cats for Lyme disease and Bartonella. Fleas on cats were found years ago to spread Bartonella, thus the original name for Bartonellosis was “cat scratch fever.”
As the Medical Director of Sponaugle Wellness Institute, I have treated hundreds of patients with Bartonella, most of these patients did not have cats. You don’t need a cat to get “cat scratch fever.” Ticks, mosquitoes and fleas have all been proven to harbor Bartonella and the Lyme spirochete.
Desert sand fleas in Iraq were given credit for causing the first “Gulf War Syndrome.” They infected our troops with Mycoplama, a bacterium that is even smaller than the tiny Bartonella bacterium seen on my patient’s blood smear below. Surely, the desert sand fleas in Iraq transport Bartonella from Iraqi dogs to our troops!
The slide below demonstrates just how small the Bartonella bacterium looks when compared to the red blood cells surrounding it. For a frame of reference, our red blood cells are only 8 microns in diameter. Common sense dictates that the Bartonella bacterium is small enough to be carried by almost any vector, desert sand fleas included.
Are American troops infecting their wives and husbands with Bartonella when they return from Iraq?
Most likely they are. We know that the larger Lyme spirochete is passed from one spouse to another during sexual activity. We also know the Lyme spirochete can cross the placenta infecting an unborn baby. Why would we not believe that the much smaller Bartonella bacterium would readily pass through the placenta and infect sexual partners.
Soldiers returning from Iraq have experienced a much higher rate of psychological disorders than other war veterans including; depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, Bipolar disorder, and addiction issues.
Do Bartonella infections have causation in the higher prevalence of mental disorders seen in soldiers returning from Iraq verses soldiers returning from other wars?
If indeed our troops are getting infected with Bartonella in Iraq, the answer is definitely yes. Bartonella is notorious for causing mental disorders, especially rage issues.
I have performed clinical research in hundreds of Lyme patients comparing their psychological symptoms to changes on their brain scans and their brain chemistry patterns. Those Lyme patients, who on blood smear testing, revealed a significant Bartonella infection, always experienced more severe psychological symptoms. This is with the Lyme biomarker CD 57 being relatively equal.
More specifically, patients with the worst Bartonella infections demonstrate dangerously high levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter, Glutamate. When Glutamate levels are excessive, calcium channels in brain neurons remain open causing rapid and repetitive electrical firing.
These Bartonella patients suffer from a phenomenon called excito-neurotoxicity, their brain is over-electrified. They often state their brain feels like it’s going to explode or it feels like it’s on fire. Symptomatically, they suffer with insomnia, anxiety disorders, panic disorder, rage issues and in the most severe cases, paranoia.
Perhaps too many veterans from the Iraq war are being misdiagnosed as having PTSD, when in fact they are suffering from brain infections with Bartonella. We could argue that these soldiers have experienced no more psychological trauma than veterans from previous wars.
Lyme literate doctors are fully aware that Lyme disease goes undiagnosed in millions of Americans. I have personally treated hundreds of patients who were infected with both Lyme and Bartonella and I am convinced that Bartonella is under diagnosed far more than Lyme disease!
At Sponaugle Wellness Institute, we diagnose Bartonellosis in 90 percent of our chronic Lyme patients. Many of these Lyme patients were previously informed by other Lyme physicians that they were not infected with Bartonella.
Problematic is that antibody and PCR testing for Bartonella will often produce false negatives when the Bartonella bacteria are sequestered in a “bio-film bubble” as seen below in my patient’s blood smear.
Perhaps the most compelling question is whether our military would find it more efficacious to routinely test Iraq war veterans for Bartonella than to label infected soldiers as mentally disturbed and treat them with psychiatric medicines.
As I finished this article on April 23, 2013, I picked up the St. Petersburg Tribune which I had not read for two weeks. Maybe it’s a God thing. I found the following Associated Press Article titled “Iraq Vet Pleads Guilty to Killing 5 At Clinic.”
The story explains that Army Sergeant John Russell went on a shooting spree at an Army mental health clinic in Baghdad. It was one of the worst instances of soldier-on-soldier violence in the Iraq war.
Russell was nearing the end of his third tour in Iraq when according to other soldiers in his unit he became distant and paranoid. He was referred to the Camp Liberty clinic where he received prescription medication which apparently made him suicidal, he later returned to the clinic and shot five soldiers.
I couldn’t have made up a better story to match the science I just explained in this article. I wrote a similar blog on Adam Lanza pleading for testing. Perhaps if enough of you Lyme – Bartonella literate people share this on your Lyme blogs, we can unite in an effort to mandate testing for soldiers like John Russell.
[Dr. Rick Sponaugle, Medical Director of Sponaugle Wellness Institute]
Department of Population Health and Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States of America. Chomel BB, McMillan-Cole AC, Kasten RW, Stuckey MJ, Sato S, Maruyama S, Diniz PP, Breitschwerdt EB.
Bartonellae are emerging vector-borne pathogens infecting erythrocytes and endothelial cells of various domestic and wild mammals. Blood samples were collected from domestic and wild canids in Iraq under the United States Army zoonotic disease surveillance program. Serology was performed using an indirect immunofluorescent antibody test for B. henselae, B. clarridgeiae, B. vinsonii subsp. berkhoffii and B. bovis. Overall seroprevalence was 47.4% in dogs (n = 97), 40.4% in jackals (n = 57) and 12.8% in red foxes (n = 39). Bartonella species DNA was amplified from whole blood and representative strains were sequenced. DNA of a new Bartonella species similar to but distinct from B. bovis, was amplified from 37.1% of the dogs and 12.3% of the jackals. B. vinsonii subsp. berkhoffii was also amplified from one jackal and no Bartonella DNA was amplified from foxes. Adjusting for age, the odds of dogs being Bartonella PCR positive were 11.94 times higher than for wild canids (95% CI: 4.55-31.35), suggesting their role as reservoir for this new Bartonella species.
This study reports on the prevalence of Bartonella species in domestic and wild canids of Iraq and provides the first detection of Bartonella in jackals. We propose Candidatus Bartonella merieuxii for this new Bartonella species. Most of the Bartonella species identified in sick dogs are also pathogenic for humans.
Therefore, sero-prevalence in Iraqi dog owners and bacterium in Iraqi people with unexplained fever or culture negative endocarditis requires further investigation as well as in United States military personnel who were stationed in Iraq. Finally, it will also be essential to test any dog brought back from Iraq to the USA for presence of Bartonella bacterium to prevent any accidental introduction of a new Bartonella species to the New World.
Please pass this information on.