What is ehrlichiosis?

What is ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis is a group of infections caused by several forms of the bacterium Ehrlichia . Ticks transmit the bacteriaum (and other infections such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease) to humans through bites on the skin. Without treatment, this infection may cause serious complications. However, ehrlichiosis does not become a chronic (ongoing) condition.

Who is likely to have ehrlichiosis?

You may develop ehrlichiosis if you live in a region with disease-carrying ticks. These ticks live primarily in the central and southeastern United States. Cases of ehrlichiosis are also reported in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

How does one contract ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis results from the bite of a tick carrying one of the forms of Ehrlichia bacteria. Many types of ticks, Lone star ticks, deer ticks, and dog ticks can carry ehrlichia bacterium. Blacklegged ticks also spread the infection.

Rarely, blood transfusions or organ transplants infected with the bacterium have caused ehrlichiosis.

What are the symptoms of ehrlichiosis?

Symptoms often appear a week or more after an infected tick bites a person. The symptoms vary from person to person and range from mild to severe. If untreated, the symptoms and infection may last for weeks. Most commonly, symptoms of ehrlichiosis include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue and sometimes a rash
  • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, not being hungry
  • Headache and confusion
  • Red eyes (more often in children)

A generalized rash is uncommon and occurs in a minority of cases, but more often in children than adults. If present, additional infections or conditions should also be considered.

In people with other significant health problems, or if the infection is not treated, the symptoms and illness may be more severe. In severe cases, ehrlichiosis may cause:

  • Seizure
  • Coma
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Organ failure
  • Other infections (superinfections) from viruses or fungi, which may require additional more specific treatment