Ehrlichia is a bacterium that can cause diseases such as Ehrlichiosis. In the United States, three types of Ehrlichia are known to harm humans, including E. muris eauclairensis, E. chaffeensis, and E. ewingii, all members of the Rickettsia family.
E. chaffeensis and E. ewingii are spread via the lone star tick. E. muris eauclairensis is spread by the deer, or black-legged, tick. Yes, the same one that carries Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. When a lone star or deer tick bites a human, the bacteria is transferred to the person’s bloodstream, where it multiplies and spreads throughout the body.
One deer tick can carry both Ehrlichiosis and Lyme disease, as well as other coinfections. Now let’s dive into more detail about Ehrlichia symptoms.
Where Do People Get the Disease?
Between 800 and 1,000 cases of Ehrlichiosis are reported annually, compared to more than 400,000 reported cases of Lyme disease every year. Most agencies agree that many people likely have the diseases but do not report them, mistaking their symptoms for a common illness. Also, doctors misdiagnose patients for conditions that have the same symptoms, delaying proper treatment.
Ehrlichiosis is found mainly in the Southeastern, South Central, and mid-Atlantic States. However, reports have been made in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Anyone traveling to those regions is susceptible to being bitten by the lone star tick and returning home with Ehrlichiosis. Some may return home with the tick.
Lyme disease began as a Northeastern disease but has since spread to every state and globally.
What Are the Initial Ehrlichia Symptoms?
Ehrlichia and Lyme disease symptoms appear the same in the initial stages. Symptoms usually appear within the first two weeks, and you may feel any of the following:
- Extreme fatigue
Research claims that 60% of children and 30% of adults will experience a rash after contracting Ehrlichiosis. The rash looks like a sunburn and can also look like Rocky Mounted Spotted Fever. Only an estimated 70% of people in all age groups combined. The Lyme disease rash may appear as a bullseye with circles around the bite area. However, the rash may appear anywhere on the body, not just next to the bite. Some people do not even realize they have a rash when they appear in places that aren’t often checked.
With Ehrlichiosis, you may also experience eye redness, while with Lyme disease, you may experience a stiff neck, swollen lymph nodes, and achy joints on top of the other symptoms.
What Are the Later Symptoms?
Ehrlichiosis is especially dangerous for people with a weak immune system, and is seen more in young children and older adults. If not treated right away, symptoms will worsen and become dangerous. Late illness symptoms of Ehrlichiosis include meningoencephalitis, or brain and spinal cord swelling, causing brain and nerve damage. You may also experience respiratory trouble, uncontrolled bleeding, and organ damage. If left untreated, the disease could become fatal.
Later symptoms of Lyme disease may include facial paralysis, depression, anxiety, cognitive dysfunction, irregular heartbeats, muscle weakness, numbness, vision problems, and meningoencephalitis.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Several methods are used to test for Ehrlichiosis, including blood tests. If you have an abnormally low count of red and white blood cells and platelets, that is a sign you may have the disease.
Blood smears are taken, examined using special stains, and evaluated under a microscope. More than one test must be used to confirm Ehrlichiosis. Doctors may choose any of the following as secondary tests:
- Polymerase Chain Reaction
- Indirect Immunofluorescence
- Intracellular Inclusions
These same methods are beneficial when testing for Lyme disease. Unfortunately, most general doctors follow a two-step protocol recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consisting of first administering the ELISA and, if the results are positive, confirming the results with the Western Blot tests.
The problem is that both tests have a high rate of inaccuracy because they test for the antibodies of Lyme disease, which can take weeks or months to develop after a tick bite. Testing too soon will result in a false negative. Also, Lyme bacteria can avoid antibody detection by building biofilms that make them seem invisible. They can also go inactive and can hide in cell walls in tissues.
How Is It Treated?
Antibiotics are the first line of treatment for Ehrlichiosis and Lyme disease. Doxycycline is typically recommended for humans and pets due to its strength and because it prevents the growth of bacteria and stops it from spreading.
Antibiotic use does not always result in successfully eliminating Ehrlichiosis or Lyme disease. People who can start taking antibiotics within the first few weeks after being bitten by a tick seem to achieve higher success. Antibiotics given in a chronic stage of the disease may have more trouble eliminating all bacteria.
If even one bacterium is left in your system, it will multiply and begin spreading again.
The Best Solution
The best solution is to work with a specialist in infectious and rare diseases, often called a Lyme-literate doctor, because they have extra education and training in Lyme disease and its coinfections, like Ehrlichiosis.
Lyme-literate doctors can perform advanced, modern treatments that are non-invasive and can be done on an outpatient basis. Examples of advanced treatments with high efficacy include:
- Therapeutic apheresis, exchanging infected blood for donated, healthy blood.
- Hyperthermia assists the body’s natural immune system by causing a fever.
- Intravenous antibiotics, unlike oral antibiotics, are delivered directly into your bloodstream.
- Biofilm eradication breaks down the materials that protect and hide bacteria.
- Detox protocols, supplements, and nutraceuticals.
Find a Lyme-Literate Specialist
Before you search for the right doctor, commit to finding the best one rather than the one your insurance will pay for or closest to you. Consider going out of the country, like to Mexico, for the best treatment. Going to the best doctor means avoiding the numerous trips to various doctors, referrals and leaving with more questions than answers. You deserve the best the first time.
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