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What Are the Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis?

By Deneatra Harmon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial infection caused by tick bites. Symptoms range from mild body aches to life-threatening organ failure. The illness can affect humans, pets, and other animals, and, depending on age and overall health, signs vary from one person or animal to another. Patients who may have ehrlichiosis symptoms should seek doctor’s care immediately for a quicker recovery.

According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation (ALDF), ehrlichiosis comes from a bacterium known as Ehrlichia chaffeensis or riskettsia. Specifically, humans and animals risk infection if they’re bitten by the Lone Star tick, dog tick, or deer tick, which can be found just about anywhere outdoors in warm spring and summer weather. Ehrlichiosis symptoms can strike from two weeks up to one month after exposure from a tick.

A patient may be easily misdiagnosed because the signs and symptoms of ehrlichiosis share similarities to the flu or other illnesses. Common symptoms include a mild to high fever, joint and muscle pain, headache, and chills, as well as other flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The effects of bacteria from a tick bite can leave a person generally feeling weak. Malaise, or the general feeling of a lack of energy sometimes associated with other illnesses, counts as one of the symptoms of ehrlichiosis. Fatigue and a sense of confusion may also follow after the bite.

Some patients, specifically children, may experience a skin rash at the site of the tick bite. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 60 percent of children develop a rash associated with symptoms of ehrlichiosis. Fewer than 30 percent of adults reportedly suffer from a rash, which can spread everywhere on the body except for the face. The CDC notes that a skin rash caused by ehrlichiosis usually resembles sunburn, but it does not itch.

Mild ehrlichiosis symptoms may disappear on their own without treatment, but medical experts recommend seeking treatment immediately to avoid complications. Severe signs and symptoms of ehrlichiosis include respiratory problems and seizures. Ehrlichiosis left untreated can also lead to kidney failure and coma, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Doctors treat symptoms with prescription antibiotics, and, depending on the specific case of bacterial infection, the patient should take the medication for seven to 14 days. Once the patient starts taking the antibiotics, ehrlichiosis signs and symptoms should subside with two or three days.

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