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Posted on 02-12-2017

Heart Disease, Veterinarians and Creepy Critters
by Dr. Cynthia Maro
What does human heart disease have to do with crawling creepy little bugs and veterinarians? Reading this column will tie it all together, and I hope it will give readers the insight to take a proactive role in partnering with their veterinarians as advocates for both human and animal health. 
Today, I attended one of many lectures at the North American Veterinary Conference; this one began with a video clip that caught everyone's attention. A 50 year old man shared his story, because what happened to him changed his life. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good change - he had been a fit, healthy physician who competed in Iron World Championship Triathlons, and was married with children, and had 2 cats, 2 dogs, and a rabbit. Last year, while working a shift in the hospital, he felt his heart racing while sitting. He listened to his heart and found a heart murmur. He immediately went to the cardiology department for an echocardiogram where he was diagnosed with an aortic valve disorder, serious enough to require surgical replacement. He was devastated for 3 reasons: 
1. His diagnosis was life threatening; 
2. He felt tired and weak; 
3. He hadn't foreseen or been able to prevent the problem through a healthy lifestyle. 
There was no history of heart disease in his family and the problem came about suddenly. The MD-turned-patient asked the doctors to look deeper for an underlying problem; he requested tests for obscure diseases, including ones that could come from exposure to household pets. His cardiologist said it was likely just a bad valve, but further testing revealed a surprise - he had a vegetative infectious growth flapping inside his aorta. After lots of tests, he eventually was diagnosed with Bartonella. Neither he nor any of his doctors were familiar with this disease. Bartonella can cause many types of illnesses, including heart disorders and rheumatoid arthritis.
There are 37 different species which infect wild animals, household pets and humans. It gets into the system through flea and tick bites, or when you squish a flea or tick. One form causes cat scratch disease in humans. More often, it acts like Lyme Disease, causing autoimmune disorders. Because it can be tricky to identify, sometimes people and animals suffer from undiagnosed illness and fatigue for years. Even mental health problems, like bipolar disorders and schizophrenia, have been associated, and when properly treated, people have gotten their lives back on track. 
Like Lyme Disease, Bartonellosis is hard to diagnose. Chances are high that your MD doesn't know about the problem, or how to diagnose and treat it. This is where your veterinarian comes in. Many of us are well versed in zoonotic disease prevention (the illnesses that can spread between humans and animals), and our job goes beyond protecting pets and our food chain - we have an obligation to protect your family and human health. When your veterinarian is telling you to get 100% effective flea and tick control, we are doing it with full knowledge of the many diseases which could change a family member's life forever. Avoid the urge to look for a seemingly better deal from another, less trustworthy source, such as online, discount stores, or hardware stores. Many discount products are less effective and could put your pets and your family in danger. Even products that are packaged to look identical your vet is recommending can be counterfeit products.
The fact is that vets enjoy being part of your health care team. We know about many illnesses which we strive to protect you and your family against. Be proactive; you don't want to wait to prevent tick and flea related diseases. Your health depends on it.
The MD in the video survived his surgery, but has not been able to return to serious competition as a triathlete. He told his story so others could be spared from having a life-threatening heart disorder. He realized that he had not been diligent about flea/tick  protection, because he had no idea about the risks to his family.
Be sure to consult at least twice yearly with your vet to see if your flea/ tick prevention program is still effective. Let her know where you travel, as this can make a difference in types of prevention used. Many vets offer testing for tick carried illnesses, and my office tests pets for Bartonellosis.
If you or a family member have an undiagnosed or chronic health concern, check the CDC website and speak with your physician about using Galaxy Diagnostics for human Bartonella testing.

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