What is Ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis (Human Monocytic Ehrlichiosis – HME) is a bacterial illness that is caused by the bite of an infected tick. The tick that usually carries the disease is the Lone Star variety. It is primarily found in the southeast, south-central and eastern areas of the United States. It causes symptoms that can be normally experienced due to a normal influenza but can be deadly if not properly treated, especially in those with weakened immune systems.

What are the Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis?

Some have absolutely no symptoms of ehrlichiosis, and the disease silently goes away unnoticed. Others experience mild symptoms that spontaneously clear up without medication. However, most people with ehrlichiosis are stricken with serious symptoms that require prompt medical treatment. Signs of ehrlichiosis can take up to two weeks to appear after discovering a tick bite. The longer a diseased tick has been feeding, the greater the likelihood of transmission.

Symptoms include

  • Fever
  • Severe head pain
  • Red eyes
  • Chills
  • Aching muscles
  • Coughing
  • Queasiness
  • Vomiting
  • Loose stools
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Painful joints
  • Confusion
  • Skin rash in any location
  • Malaise

Life-threatening complications include

Ehrlichiosis Causes

This disease is caused by a bacterial infection. This infection is caused by ehrlichia bacteria that are carried by the Lone Star tick. When this tick bites a human to drink their blood, they can transmit these bacteria to their human host. The tick has to remain attached to the skin for 24 hours or more for the infection to be transmitted. The bacteria enter through the hole made by the tick’s bite and make their way into the bloodstream. Because this infection is blood-borne, it can be transmitted through infected blood coming into contact with someone else’s bloodstream. This can happen with a blood transfusion from an infected person and through pregnancy. It can also be transmitted from an infected animal when a human comes into contact with its blood.

How is Ehrlichiosis Treated?

Early treatment decreases the likelihood of developing dangerous complications.

Treatment includes

An antibiotic medication (doxycycline or another tetracycline) will likely be prescribed for one to two weeks. The duration of antibiotic treatment depends on the severity of the illness. In any case, it can take many weeks for the headache, weakness and general feelings of malaise to completely go away.

Ehrlichiosis Prevention

Because it takes so long for the bacteria to be spread from a tick to a human, removing a tick quickly is a good way to prevent the infection from taking place. Check yourself for ticks after being in the woods for any amount of time. After walking through long grass or sitting outdoors, perform a tick check of any exposed areas of skin.

One of the best ways to prevent becoming infected with this bacteria is to avoid giving ticks the opportunity to bite. Ticks tend to hold on to the tops of vegetation and wait for a human or animal to walk by. Keeping your grass cut short can help keep them away from your legs and ankles. Avoid areas where the vegetation is thick and full of undergrowth. Wear clothing in the lightest colors possible. Because ticks are dark in color, it will be easy to see them crawling on your clothing if there is a high contrast. Wear high, closed footwear to avoid ticks getting onto your skin and attaching themselves. When you check for ticks, don’t just look at your lower extremities. Ticks may crawl up your clothing under they find a good place to attach themselves.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 19, 2017