What is Tick-Borne Ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis in Kentucky

In the summer of 2017, Channel 3 Wave News followed the story of Bobbi Harned and her tick bite very closely. As the sister-in-law to their chief meteorologist Kevin Harned, the news team felt very close to the story. Turns out it is a story all of Louisville, all of Kentucky actually, can learn from.

After a day on Rough River and a walk through the woods in June of 2017, Bobbi knew to check for ticks. When she saw one crawling, but not attached, she brushed it off and didn’t think of it again. Just two weeks later she was sick. With extreme flu-like symptoms, she tested negative for flu. The doctor gave her antibiotics for a urinary tract infection and sent her on her way. Barely a week later she was back in the emergency room and barely coherent. Soon after her blood pressure dropped and she slipped into a coma. She was intubated and swollen beyond recognition. Her family didn’t expect her to make it.

However, at the last minute, the doctor decided to treat Bobbi for tick-borne illness. She immediately started to get better. Through testing, they discovered that Bobbi had ehrlichiosis, transmitted to her from the bite of a lone star tick, most likely that tick that she brushed off after her walk in the woods. The great news is that Bobbi recovered from the illness, but unfortunately not before damage to her hearing and vocal cords due to swelling of the brain.

What is Ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis is a bacteria transmitted to humans through the bite of a lone star tick and is rare compared to other tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease. Most prominent in the south-central and eastern part of the United States, symptoms generally occur within 1 to 2 weeks of a tick bite and include fever, headache, achiness, and fatigue, nausea and vomiting, rash. A patient could have some, none, or all of these. The first line of treatment for ehrlichiosis is antibiotics. For more severe cases hospital stay and intravenous treatment may be required. The disease is very dangerous. When not treated properly, ehrlichiosis can be fatal even in previously healthy patients.

Protect and Report

The Harned family is thankful for Bobbi’s recovery, but they’ve learned from this experience. We would all be smart to share in their lessons. First, when you have symptoms, ask your healthcare professional to test for tick-borne illness. “Make sure they speak up. When we went, we didn’t think about it. But the doctors don’t know. With symptoms, they’re not thinking of tick bites,” said M.T., Bobbi’s husband. Bobbi herself was a critical care nurse and even she didn’t consider that she might be sick from a tick bite. Bobbi also says that she never lets her family go out to enjoy the outdoors without treating their clothes with permethrin.

At Mosquito Squad of Louisville, we reiterate those suggestions. When going out wear long sleeves and long pants and use insect repellent. If you find a tick on you or on your clothes, make note of it. Write down the date. That way if you do show symptoms you can track the timing. The more information you can give your healthcare provider the better if an illness were to arise. While the illnesses that ticks carry can be scary, protection is available in many forms including when you are at home. Call us at Mosquito Squad of Louisville today so that we can tell you about out tick control program. No one wants to be thinking about ticks when they are relaxing in their own backyard. We look forward to hearing from you.