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Traveler brings new bacterium home from Peru

June 09, 2007|Jia-Rui Chong | Times Staff Writer

A new species of bacterium has been found in blood taken from a woman who was suffering from fever, an enlarged spleen and other symptoms, researchers said Thursday.

The new bacterium, named Bartonella rochalimae after Henrique da Rocha Lima, a Brazilian disease investigator, is related to the bacteria responsible for trench fever during World War I and cat scratch disease.

The 43-year-old woman described in the case, published the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, showed up at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2003 after a trip to Peru.

Doctors originally suspected the woman had malaria, typhoid fever or Oroya fever, a disease caused by the bacterium Bartonella bacilliformis, which is common in the Andes.

When doctors in Boston had difficulty growing the Bartonella bacteria, they called in UC San Francisco's Dr. Jane E. Koehler, who led the group that first isolated the Bartonella variety that causes cat scratch disease.

Genetic tests and comparisons to DNA archives showed that the woman's bacterium was a new species.

Koehler, the study's senior author, was uncertain how the woman had been infected but suspected insect bites.

The closest bacterium in the world database was isolated from a flea in Peru in 2002. The woman, who has recovered from the infection, had healing insect bites on her legs and feet when she came to the hospital. Other Bartonella species are transmitted by lice and fleas.

The characterization of this species is part of a recent renaissance for discoveries of new human-disease-causing bacteria and viruses, enabled by better DNA technology, Koehler said.

"We don't know whether this particular Bartonella is going to be a major player in human health," Koehler said. "It may be there will be more patients with unrecognized infections."

jia-rui.chong@latimes.com

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