Emergence of the Ehrlichioses as Human Health Problems

Emerg Infect Dis. Jan-Mar 1996;2(1):18-29. doi: 10.3201/eid0201.960102.

Abstract

Ehrlichiae are small, gram-negative, obligately intracellular bacteria that reside within a phagosome. The first human ehrlichial infection was recognized in the United States in 1987. It was later shown to be caused by a new species, Ehrlichia chaffeensis. In 1994, an ehrlichial pathogen within neutrophils that is closely related to the known veterinary pathogens E. equi and E. phagocytophila was found to infect humans. Molecular methods were required to detect, characterize, and identify these fastidious and uncultivated bacteria. Subsequently, E. chaffeensis infection was documented in more than 400 patients in 30 states, Europe, and Africa. Likewise, approximately 170 cases of human granulocytic ehrlichiosis have been diagnosed, most since 1994, predominantly in the upper midwestern and northeastern states, but also in northern California. The disease caused by ehrlichiae is generally undifferentiated but is often associated with leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, and elevated serum hepatic transaminase levels in tick-exposed patients. Infection ranges from subclinical to fatal; tetracycline appears to be an effective therapy. The emergence of these two newly recognized tickborne infections as threats to human health is probably due to increased clinical cognizance, but as in other emerging tickborne infections, it is likely that the rapid increase in identified cases signals a true emergence of disease associated with a changing vector-host ecology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ehrlichia / isolation & purification
  • Ehrlichiosis / diagnosis
  • Ehrlichiosis / etiology*
  • Ehrlichiosis / therapy
  • Humans