Anaplasmosis is a rare bacterial infection. People most often develop this condition as a result of a tick bite.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018, there were fewer than 4,000 reports of anaplasmosis in the United States.
People are most likely to contract this infection during the spring and summer months, especially in June and July, because there is a higher risk of a person coming into contact with an infected tick at this time.
This article discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatment options associated with anaplasmosis.
Anaplasmosis, which was previously known as human granulocytic ehrlichiosis, is a tick-borne bacterial infection caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum.
According to the CDC, the most likely carriers of Anaplasma phagocytophilum are the blacklegged tick, or Ixodes scapularis, and the western blacklegged tick, or Ixodes pacificus.
The blacklegged tick is common in Northeast and Midwestern areas of the U.S., while the western blacklegged tick is common on the West Coast.
Anaplasmosis has a high survival rate. Less than 1% of all cases result in death.
A person can contract anaplasmosis following a bite from a tick that is carrying the bacterium.
A tick needs to stay attached for 4–24 hours to transmit the bacteria, so removing a tick soon after the bite occurs can prevent transmission.
In rare cases, a person may contract anaplasmosis from a blood transfusion.
People usually start to experience symptoms within 1–2 weeks of sustaining a bite from an infected tick. The person may not immediately notice the bite, as tick bites are often painless.
It is also possible that a person may be asymptomatic, meaning that they will not show any symptoms of infection. Some people may experience only a few symptoms.
Early signs and symptoms of anaplasmosis are usually mild or moderate.
Symptoms can include:
People may experience more serious symptoms if they do not receive treatment, or if they have an underlying medical condition. Severe symptoms can include:
- bleeding problems
- respiratory failure
- organ failure
However, anaplasmosis is rarely fatal. Most people who receive early treatment will recover with no major issues.
According to the CDC, people with a weakened immune system and those who do not receive early treatment are most at risk.
People do not necessarily need to call their doctor if they find a tick on their body. Not all ticks carry anaplasmosis or other diseases.
However, if symptoms similar to those of anaplasmosis occur within 2 weeks of removing the tick, a person should contact their doctor as soon as possible.
Similarly, people should see their doctor if they have sustained a tick bite and have symptoms of Lyme disease. This is a potentially serious condition that ticks can transmit through biting.
The diagnosis of anaplasmosis involves undergoing a physical examination. The person should let their doctor know if they have recently removed a tick from their skin or have recently spent time outdoors where ticks are common.
Anaplasmosis can be hard to diagnose. This is because several other illnesses have similar symptoms to those of anaplasmosis. Therefore, a doctor may not check for anaplasmosis at first.
Following the physical examination, a doctor will need to run one or more tests to check for anaplasmosis. These tests may include:
- a polymerase chain reaction, which is a blood test that looks for traces of the bacterium in the blood
- cell cultures, to detect the bacterium
- an antibody test, which examines the blood for certain antibodies that fight anaplasmosis
Following treatment, it is still possible for a person to develop anaplasmosis again. Therefore, people should continue to take precautions against coming into contact with ticks that may carry the bacterium.
With diagnosis and treatment, most people will recover from anaplasmosis with no long-term health issues. It is fatal in less than 1% of cases.
People who do not seek treatment early, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems may not recover as easily. They may develop more severe symptoms or complications.
There are several ways to help prevent anaplasmosis. The best prevention method is to take precautions against coming into contact with ticks.
If someone sustains a tick bite, they should immediately and completely remove it from their body. A tick needs to stay attached for 4–24 hours to transmit the bacteria responsible for anaplasmosis. Removing the tick can prevent transmission.
A person can help prevent tick bites by:
- walking in the center of trails, rather than near the grassy edges
- avoiding tall grass or brush
- applying products containing 0.5% permethrin to clothing, boots, and shoes
- using insect repellents
- checking pets and gear for ticks before coming inside
- inspecting oneself, pets, and children for ticks after spending time in the yard or other outdoor areas
- taking a shower within a short time of being outside, to better check areas of the body that clothing conceals
- keeping home yards cut short
- keeping a barrier of wood chips or rocks between lawns and wooded areas, to prevent ticks from spreading
- removing leaves and brush from yards
Ticks are active all year round, though more people are likely to come into contact with them during warmer months.
If possible, a person should also take a photo of any removed tick. Having access to a photo can help a doctor diagnose potential illness if symptoms start to occur.
Animals can also develop anaplasmosis.
According to the University of Kentucky, beef cows are susceptible to anaplasmosis from ticks and can show the following signs and symptoms if they acquire the infection:
- thin blood
- yellow mucus coming from the nose and other mucous membranes
- weight loss
- not chewing cud
- pale areas around the eyes, teats, and muzzle
- aggressive behavior, possibly from a lack of oxygen
- loss of calves during birth
Antibiotics can also work to kill the bacterium in cows. A person should talk to the animal’s vet about proper dosage and recommendations for treatment.
Anaplasmosis can also affect dogs and cats, so it is important to take precautions with pets. Pet owners should use preventive measures such as anti-tick collars or drops.
According to the American Kennel Club, dogs will show symptoms similar to those in humans. These include:
- difficulty breathing
- a loss of muscle control
A person should take their pet to the vet if they show any symptoms of illness.
Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne bacterial infection. With early diagnosis and treatment, a doctor can usually treat anaplasmosis with a round of antibiotics.
People with weakened immune systems are most at risk of experiencing severe complications. However, the infection is rarely fatal.
When spending time outdoors, people can take precautions to avoid tick bites, such as avoiding tall grass and wearing tick or insect repellent. People should also take precautions to protect their pets.