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What is Ehrlichiosis?

Tweezers can be used to detach the tick from the skin.
Ehrlichiosis is often transmitted by deer ticks.
Depending on their sex and type, ticks can expand to different sizes -- as big as a grape or as small as an apple seed -- when feeding on blood.
The brown dog tick can transmit the bacteria that causes ehrlichiosis.
People can prevent tick bites by wearing bug spray and pants outdoors.
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  • Written By: J.Gunsch
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2014
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Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to humans and other animals via tick bites. There are many symptoms of this condition, including fever, intense fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, chills and a general ill feeling. The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person. Ehrlichiosis is similar to the more commonly known tick related illness Lyme disease, although it is usually not as serious.

This infection is transmitted by bacteria of the genus Ehrlichia that live in some species of ticks. Usually deer ticks, dog ticks and lone star ticks are the vectors that carry the bacteria. Not every individual tick is infected with the bacteria, so a tick bite does not automatically result in illness. It usually takes 24 to 36 hours for an infected feeding tick to transmit bacteria to its host.

This condition has only recently been discovered. There are currently two specific illnesses transmitted by two different types of bacteria that are condiered types of this condition. Human monocytic ehrlichiosis is the form that affects the white blood cells called monocytes, while human granulocytic ehrlichiosis affects the white blood cells called granulocytes.

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The symptoms of this condition usually appear about a week after someone has been bitten by an infected tick. However, it is also common for it to have very mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all. The only way to conclusively diagnose ehrlichiosis is through a blood test. The good news is that this disease is usually resolved by the immune system and requires no medical treatment.

For people who have compromised or weak immune systems, such as very young children, the elderly or those with autoimmune deficiency diseases, ehrlichiosis can become very serious or fatal if left untreated. When the immune system is unable to effectively fight bacteria, the bacteria are able to multiply quickly and overwhelm the body. However, the infection is easily treated with antibiotics.

Ticks are known to transmit many disease-causing bacteria other than ehrlichiosis. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are two of the most commonly known, but more and more tick borne illnesses are being discovered every day. Because of the potential risk, it is a good idea to carefully examine your entire body after you have been outdoors.

You can also prevent tick bites by using bug spray. Wearing light clothing when spending time outdoors also helps you to more easily spot a tick looking to make you its meal. Tucking pants into socks helps to keep ticks from crawling up through your pants legs and hiding in hard to see areas.

If you find a tick attached to your skin, don’t panic. Remember that it takes 24 to 36 hours to transmit the bacteria that cause this condition and not all ticks are infected. Calmly remove the tick with tweezers, grasping it as close to the skin as possible. Quickly pull the tick away to prevent breaking its mouthparts that could remain in the skin. If parts do remain, try to remove them with the tweezers like you would a splinter. It is a myth that the remaining part of the tick is still alive and will burrow into your skin, but the mouthparts may still contain the ehrlichiosis-causing bacteria.

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