Sandflies in Iraq Infect Americans Who Bring Home Lyme Disease and Multiple Co-infections.

Sandflies in Iraq Infect Americans Who Bring Home Lyme Disease and Multiple Co-infections.

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)]
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Erlichiosis
  • Chlamidya Pneumoniae (CPN)
  • Bartonella [heselae (cat scratch fever) and quintana (trench fever)]
  • Mycoplasma
  • Relapsing Fever (Borrelia)
  • Rickettsiosis
  • Q Fever
  • Tularemia

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 ( 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.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of sand flies and can either be in a skin or internal organ form, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site ( The skin form is characterized by sores that develop anywhere from weeks to months after a person is bitten. If untreated, the sores can last years.The disease’s internal organ form shows symptoms such as fever, weight loss, enlargement of the spleen and liver, and anemia. Symptoms can take months or years to develop after a person is infected. If untreated, it’s typically fatal.Leavitt said anyone whose foot even touches the sand in Iraq is automatically barred from giving blood for one year because of the threat of leishmaniasis. Depending on the length of stay in a malaria-endemic area, service members may be kept from giving blood for up to three years.

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.

He writes:

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.

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29 Responses to Sandflies in Iraq Infect Americans Who Bring Home Lyme Disease and Multiple Co-infections.

  1. Normally I don’t read post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out and do so! Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thank you, very great post.

  2. Larry S. Levy says:

    Very, very intriguing information. Thanks for posting. Makes me wonder about the connection between increasing incidences of Lyme disease (and related infection) around the country, and Gulf War Syndrome. After all, one infected in the Middle East will be infecting biting insects back here in the U.S. too, right?. Therefore, our retuning troops, if infected, can be helping to spread these bugs around the country (even as they are introducing new species to a medical establishment ill prepared to deal with any of them).

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  4. David says:

    Soldier here diagnoses with severe PTSD. I also was treated for Lyme disease but have long term effects I believe. Neurologically I have what my son says looks like I am having flashbacks, where I seem to jump into action for no reason. I have no cause blood pressure spikes also. Too many symptoms to list here, but in the end I am being treated for PTSD and TBI. Thank you for the post.

  5. Dolores Claesson says:
    Acinetobacter baumnaii is entering wounds in our servicemen and women in Iraq and killing them and others in hospitals where they are being treated.

  6. Debbie Thompson says:

    Thank you for the post. We have a ton of no-see-ums in Florida, too. I used to work out at a state park/wildlife preserve, and we got bit up with those, alot, if we didn’t spray down well with repellent. You’d never know when you’d walk into a swarm of them. (This state park is on the Gulf of Mexico.) At work, didn’t always have time to re-spray.

  7. Arrow says:

    If Lyme has become a problem due to sand flies for US military serving in Iraq then we would also be seeing Lyme amongst Iraqi civilians. Any report on that?

    • Jenna Smith says:

      Hi Arrow –

      Yes, there is a world-wide crisis due to the “Lyme” – more correctly called “Borrelia” epidemic (due to the many species worldwide that used to be believed to be contained by continents and absent on some (like Australia.) Now we know it is on every continent.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Jenna, I just wanted to thank you for your article. I ran across it a couple of weeks ago & shared it. I have been very sick for years & was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia & didn’t find out it was Lyme, Bartonella, RMSF, Babesia, & several active viral infections until 1 1/2 ago. It has almost taken my life several times.

    My husband is a Marine Corp Veteran and after seeing this article, I decided to have him tested because his health has also been declining. I am at a loss for words. Do you know that he also tested positive for every strand of Lyme I have & the exact same co-infections that I have? He also tested positive for a couple that were from Asia/Europe. It is looking like he gave this to me.

    Do you have any contacts as to where we are suppose to go for help with this?

    • Jenna Smith says:

      Hi Stephanie –
      I am SO sorry to hear your story, and can only congratulate you for getting a firm diagnosis for you and your husband because the longer you are sick, the harder it is to get rid of. The doctor who diagnosed you should be able to treat you but I would ALSO go to the VA if I were you. Are either of you disabled? The VA is more likely to help if you are but proving that you were infected by him is tough. Also, many times I have had to educate my doctors on the latest treatments because so few medical doctors are truly experts.

      To reassure you, the Borrelia strains from Asia and Europe have been in the US for decades but the medical community is just starting to hear about it – researchers have been writing papers on it for years! It is truly a global epidemic. Hang in there Stephani – I am happy to help in any way I can.


  9. Steph says:

    Hi Jenna. Yes, I have been disabled for 6 years now. Had to leave a job making over $50,000 a year to now having a disability check of $1,200 which most goes to treatment.

    I am still very sick & my husband is going down fast.I found I have one of the MTHFR gene mutations which is hindering my progress. Just started treating for that this month.

    What would be helpful is to have links to any article that you are referring to where they admit these guys were being exposéd to these infections. That would be helpful to supply that to the VA.

    Interesting enough, my husband & I were going thru his Marine Corp albums tonight & one thing his mother kept is lists of things that soldiers needed according to the government. One thing that really stood out was flea collars because they were being eaten alive by sand fleas & needed them to wear around their ankles.

    Any article showing where this has been discussed would be greatly appreciated.

  10. Steph says:

    Jenna, I also ran across this article & thought it may be of interest to you. Seeing this poor soldiers symptoms leads me to believe this is exactly what happened to him:(

  11. Carol says:

    This is so very interesting… I believe I had Bartonella for a very long time and I got six months of anabiotic not knowing it was lime disease or Bartonella and I believe I gave it to all of my children in utero… One of my children spent time in Afghanistan and he is being tested through I Gen X for Bartonella it will be very interesting to see if he has it

    • Jenna Smith says:

      Fry Labs is a much more reliable lab for Bartonella – it is unlikely it will show up on a regular antibody test. Fry Labs looks at the blood which is where Bartonella (the many, many undocumented species) will show up.

  12. Brian White says:

    I was bitten by a sandfly in Germany years ago. It was just amazing how sick it made me, in bed for about 10 days and how sore and raw the bite site got really quickly but I was only sick for a week and a half. So some random bacterial infection that was cured by antibiotics. So I guess I was really lucky even though I did not feel so at the time. I saw a study or research paper that tested overwintering mosquito larvae for borellia somewhere recently. Don’t remember which country. Something like 5% of them had borellia infection. Only a fool would think that the bacteria are not going to try to repeat their life cycle after the final molt in a warm blooded host.

    • Jenna Seaver says:

      Thanks for sharing Brian –

      Yes, I am familiar with the study about the effects of global warming and actually it is a problem worldwide in cold countries that ticks are now living through the winter. The article I read was talking about the US but the percentage of infected ticks was much higher. In the northeast US it is close to 85% of all ticks carry Borrelia and 50 – 65% also carry Babesia. Now they have discovered that the nymphal ticks are born with the infection already in them and they tend to be the most infectious.

      You were very lucky to recover so well. Although some auto-immune diseases can lay dormant for decades before they show themselves. I don’t know if you read about the recent young stroke victim and heart attack victim (26 year old!) Their life-threatening condition was caused by Borrelia and they had no idea that they were infected!

      I am so glad you didn’t have lasting effects from that sand fly and say prayers for the US military who are exposed to the sand flies every night. Gulf War Syndrome is a very debilitating disease (or combination of diseases! Please share this article on you Facebook page.


  13. Pingback: REBLOG from Jenna… PTSD or Bacteria | Slices Of Lyme Pie

  14. Laura Edwards says:

    My husband had swollen lymph nodes. After a biopsy Dr said lab showed Barcelona aka cat scratch disease. He also had arthritis type symptoms required seven shots in his hands every four months. Degenerative disc back surgery digestive problems undiagnosed neurological disorder all after his service in the gulf war 91. He was treated with Heavy antibiotics for several months and suffered permanent nerve damage. Eventually leading to stage4 Glioblastoma Brain Cancer and three brain tumors which took his life.

    • Jenna Seaver says:


      I am so sorry about your husband’s death! I want to personally thank you for his patriotic service for our country, and share my sympathy with you regarding the horrible physical suffering that resulted.

      I hope that you are in good health and I hope that your life will be filled with happiness as you move on from this tragedy!


    • Brian King says:

      Wow, you brought to my attention issues regarding health related things that could answer so many things since I returned from the Gulf War and Iraq. There have been so many things that Doctors have attempted to figure out over the years with me and simply resorted to saying it is PTSD and in essence could be something else entirely based on all these studies being dome over the years and explaining why I too have experienced this weird Degenerative Disc Disease that I never had in all my life and was in great shape until several years ago. This is great information you have provided all of us here. I thank you for posting the information and it will be helpful

      • Jenna Seaver says:

        Dear Brian –

        Thank you so much for your service to our country (I am sick over what is happening there now!) But I hope that this info will help you. I highly recommend you ask your VA doctor to order a blood culture from Advanced Lab Services because it’s 94% reliable ( Every disease listed should be checked by your doctor – and I hope you don’t have Lyme but if you do, getting treatment as soon as possible is critical.

        Blessings to you and your family.


  15. Joy Ewing says:

    Thanks Jenna for the information. The more I know, the greater my interest in getting the word out to protect ourselves. My daughter and granddaughter have chronic lyme’s disease. I too am dedicated to trying to get as much information out as possible. This thing is huge and awareness is the only way to help protect us all. I am always surprised how many doctors don’t know a thing about this disease. This post has added an additional dimension to the puzzle that is Lyme. Thanks again!

    • Jenna Seaver says:

      You are very welcome! I think many more people – adults and children have Borrelia than they know…and the testing is terrible except for Advanced Lab Services in PA.

      I hope your daughter and grand-daughter recover quickly – I don’t know what I would do without my Mom!

      Blessings –


  16. Jenn Twitchell says:

    Hello. Do you happen to have a link to the USDA report you referenced here? I served in Iraq all of 2005 and am dealing with several of these infectious diseases. I would like to gather some facts, so to speak. Thank you in advance.

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