We hear a lot about Lyme Disease every summer. The signs indicating an infection, its symptoms, treatment, etc. are written about often. The tick population in NY can actually infect us with several diseases. Some are transmitted by spirochetes and others by parasites. The Westchester County Health Department wants you to know that thousands of reports are received each year on a little known tick disease, Ehrlichiosis. Ehrlichiosis is a more deadly tick disease than Lyme Disease, with a fatality rate of 1.8% among those infected.
If you’ve heard of Anaplasmosis, caused by a similar parasite to Ehrlichiosis, you’re already somewhat familiar with it. Both diseases infect white blood cells and both are caused by rickettsial. Ehrlichiosis, infects a specific type of white blood cell. In 2003, it was reclassified when a second parasite was found causing similar symptoms. This new parasite was identified as Anaplasmosis. One way of telling which parasite might be responsible for a person’s symptoms is if the tick causing the bite is identified. Erlichiosis, is believed to be transmitted by the lone star tick. Identifying your tick can help with a more accurate diagnosis.
The Westchester County Health Department has a Tick-borne Disease Information Line that is available 24 hours a day. The number is (914) 813-LYME or (914) 813-5963. Keep this number nearby. Quickly receiving information you need, if bitten, is important in your diagnosis and treatment.
Another resource for you is the Lyme Disease Diagnostic Center at New York Medical College. It provides tick identification services to help identify between the two ticks mentioned earlier. Other services in surrounding states are also available to identify any tick you find. Some of these services will also test the tick for Lyme Disease. Details on these services can be found on the Westchester County Health Department’s web page.
The symptoms caused by Ehrlichiosis usually occur 1-2 weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. Since tick bites are painless, many people don’t remember being bitten. Symptoms vary between those infected but can include fever, headache, chills, low energy, muscle pain, nausea/vomiting/diarrhea and red eyes. A sunburn-like rash and peeling skin may occur in up to 60% of children but occurs in fewer than 30% of adults according to the CDC. Unlike Lyme Disease, a skin rash is not a sign anyone has Ehrlichiosis because it rarely appears in those infected.
If you find a tick and it looks engorged with blood or appears larger than usual, follow the steps to remove it safely. Next, seal the tick in a plastic bag for identification and testing. Contact your doctor to have yourself tested and to discuss any treatment necessary. Early detection and treatment is important for a successful outcome, especially in immunocompromised individuals, children and the elderly.