The natural history of Anaplasma phagocytophilum

Vet Parasitol. 2010 Feb 10;167(2-4):108-22. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2009.09.013. Epub 2009 Sep 20.


Anaplasma phagocytophilum is the recently designated name replacing three species of granulocytic bacteria, Ehrlichia phagocytophila, Ehrlichia equi and the agent of human granulocytic ehrlichiosis, after the recent reorganization of the families Rickettsiaceae and Anaplasmataceae in the order Rickettsiales. Tick-borne fever (TBF), which is caused by the prototype of A. phagocytophilum, was first described in 1932 in Scotland. A similar disease caused by a related granulocytic agent was first described in horses in the USA in 1969; this was followed by the description of two distinct granulocytic agents causing similar diseases in dogs in the USA in 1971 and 1982. Until the discovery of human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA) in the USA in 1994, these organisms were thought to be distinct species of bacteria infecting specific domestic animals and free-living reservoirs. It is now widely accepted that the agents affecting different animal hosts are variants of the same Gram-negative obligatory intracellular bacterium, which is transmitted by hard ticks belonging to the Ixodes persulcatus complex. One of its fascinating features is that it infects and actively grows in neutrophils by employing an array of mechanisms to subvert their bactericidal activity. It is also able to survive within an apparently immune host by employing a complex mechanism of antigenic variation. Ruminants with TBF and humans with HGA develop severe febrile reaction, bacteraemia and leukopenia due to neutropenia, lymphocytopenia and thrombocytopenia within a week of exposure to a tick bite. Because of the severe haematological disorders lasting for several days and other adverse effects on the host's immune functions, infected animals and humans are more susceptible to other infections.

MeSH terms

  • Anaplasma phagocytophilum / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Ehrlichiosis / epidemiology
  • Ehrlichiosis / immunology
  • Ehrlichiosis / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Rodentia