Tick ​​bites and anaplasmosis, an infection they can cause: what to look out for


Dear doctors: We hiked a lot near our home. Two of our friends got tick bites. One got quite sick and they said it was anaplasmosis. Can you please explain what that is?

Answers: Depending on the climate, ticks can be a problem year round.

These tiny arachnids carry a number of diseases that can be transmitted if they bite people.

The best known is Lyme disease. Other tick-borne diseases include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, tick-borne relapsing fever, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan’s encephalitis, and tularemia.

The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a significant increase in anaplasmosis cases this summer. It is most commonly reported in the upper Midwest and the Northeast.

Anaplasmosis is caused by a bacterium called Anaplasma phagocytophilum, mainly carried by the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, and the western black-legged tick. When an infected tick feeds on your blood, it can pass on the pathogens it carries.

Symptoms begin to show up five days to two weeks after a bite. These include the rapid onset of a high fever, chills, severe headache, pain, malaise, and exhaustion. Some people also develop nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.

Tick ​​bites are often painless and can therefore easily go unnoticed. This is why it is so important to wear tick repellent after walking or staying in grass or forest areas and to thoroughly check your entire body, clothing and equipment. Also, watch out for pets.

Anaplasmosis is diagnosed through blood tests.

The symptoms are general enough that they can be attributed to a number of factors. This makes accurate information about recent activity a critical element of the diagnosis. It is important to let your doctor know of any time in the tick area.

The recommended treatment for anaplasmosis is the antibiotic doxycycline.

Treatment must start as soon as possible after infection. Delays can lead to more serious illness.

Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko are internists who teach at UCLA Health.

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