What is Ehrlichiosis?


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Scientists are predicting that this year could be the worst in years, and a result, they’re predicting that cases of tick-borne illnesses will become more common as well. There are a few reasons for that. To begin with, the population of mice that ticks feed on and carry conditions like Lyme disease have exploded due to a larger than usual supply of acorns. That means the tick population is rising as well. In addition, the trend of hotter summers has made it possible for ticks to stay active later in the year. So, as you get ready to head outside this summer, it’s a good time to educate yourself on a pretty common tick-borne illness: Ehrlichiosis.

Though most people are less familiar with ehrlichiosis than Lyme disease, it’s still definitely something you want to avoid. So what is ehrlichiosis? How is it treated? And what can you do to prevent it?

What is Ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis is a disease spread by the bite of infected ticks. Certain ticks carry the bacteria that cause ehrlichiosis and when they bite a human, it introduces this bacteria into the bloodstream. The bacteria then spread and multiply which leads to the symptoms of ehrlichiosis as your body tries to fight off the infection.

The symptoms of ehrlichiosis are similar to the common flu and even to conditions like fibromyalgia. Ehrlichiosis causes symptoms like:

  • Widespread muscle pain
  • Pain in the joints
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash

Often, ehrlichiosis is mild enough to go away on its own. But occasionally, the condition can become serious enough to require medical intervention. And it can even be fatal if left untreated. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to treat it.

How is it Treated?

The main course of treatment for ehrlichiosis is a medication that fights the bacterial infection. But unlike many bacterial infections, ehrlichiosis doesn’t usually respond to most antibiotics, which means doctors have to be careful about which medication they prescribe.

The most common medication that doctors prescribe to treat the condition is Doxycycline.  Doxycycline helps kill the bacteria that cause Ehrlichiosis and is usually sufficient to take care of the infection. In fact, if treated with Doxycycline within the first week of contracting the condition, ehrlichiosis usually resolves within a day or two.

The severity of Ehrlichiosis symptoms usually depends on the immune system of the person affected. Those with compromised immune systems like people with HIV or the elderly are at particular risk, which is why they should be especially careful when it comes to preventing tick bites.

How to Prevent Ehrlichiosis

The best way to prevent tick-borne illness is obviously to prevent the bites of the ticks that spread the disease. And there are a few things that the Center for Disease Control recommends for preventing bites. To begin with, the best way to avoid tick bites is to simply avoid ticks. That means being aware of the type of places that ticks tend to live in and steering clear of them.

Ticks usually live in wooded areas with large mouse or deer populations. This provides them with places to hide from predators and a ready food supply. Ticks begin their life cycle as eggs. Once they hatch, the tick needs to find a steady supply of blood in order to grow to the next stage of their development. After finding a host, they molt and grow into adults, who then must find a larger host in order to get enough blood to breed. During the winter, ticks lay dormant and eggs don’t hatch, which is why tick bites are most common in the summer.

Ticks can’t jump, so to find blood, they have to first find a way to reach it. They do this by climbing up long blades of grass, giving them a platform from which to grab onto passing animals. And that means that if you have to enter places where ticks live, like if you’re doing yard work, avoid patches of long grass where the ticks are most likely to be hiding. And it’s often helpful to wear long pants rather than shorts and tuck the legs into your socks. This won’t prevent ticks from climbing onto you, but it will keep them on the outside of your clothes where they’re more visible.

And if you’re going outside, make sure to spray your clothes down around the area that ticks are most likely to latch on with a high-quality bug repellant.

Taking some of these basic actions will go a long way to preventing tick bites, which will protect you from the wide range of tick-borne diseases. And an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.