One Man's Battle with Ehrlichiosis

A New Tick - Borne Bacteria Threatens Outdoor Enthusiasts

By KBJR News 1

August 4, 2011 Updated Aug 4, 2011 at 6:17 PM CDT

Duluth, MN - (The Northland's News Center) - While summer is the time to enjoy the outdoors, a pesky critter could turn a carefree hike into a serious health risk.

Summer wasn't great for Joe Rapacz of Iron River.

"I was one of the victims, the blood test didn't turn out normal for Ehrlichiosis," said Rapacz.

Ehrlichiosis is an infectious disease that is spread to humans by a tick-borne bacteria.

The disease was identified through DNA tests conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and medical personnel are now trying to spread the word about the danger.

Dr. Bobbi Pritt, a lab director at the Mayo Clinic said, "Ehrlichiosis due to any cause was not thought to occur in Minnesota and Wisconsin, which is where all our cases have been found to date. So we really want to get this message out to physicians."

Ehrlichiosis was familiar to medical experts, but Joe's strain was different. The Mayo Clinic isolated a new species of bacteria that caused his infection.

"This does look like it is a new bacterium never described before in the world. It is in the genus Ehrlichia, so it is a type of bacteria. It causes a disease called Ehrlichiosis in humans. We think it is mostly transferred to humans by the deer tick," said Dr. Pritt.

The diagnosis was a surprise to Joe Rapacz.

He said, "It was the first week of summer vacation and I'm up here working and not feeling too well and my wife says I was the sickest I have ever been."

Ehrlichia bacteria infect and kill white blood cells, often causing fever, headache, body aches, and fatigue.

St. Luke's Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Johan Bakken of Duluth, originally discovered Ehrlichiosis and feels confident that antibiotics are the best way to treat the disease.

He said,, "The good news about the new tick–borne infection is that it is treated the same way Lyme disease and Antaplasma infections are treated; mainly by Doxycycline and Tetracycline."

Joe Rapacz felt better only 48 hours after he began his prescribed antibiotic treatment.

"The antibiotic...I took that and it did what it was supposed to do," said Rapacz.

Dr. Bakken says the best way people can protect themselves it to prevent exposure to ticks. Advice Joe Rapacz makes sure to follow.

He said, "I am much better about spraying my legs with Off or some kind of insect repellant in the morning."

In Duluth, Maria Schmidt, the Northland's NewsCenter.

Experts say Ehrlichiosis rarely causes death, and all four patients mentioned in the New England Journal of Medicine study fully recovered after receiving antibiotic treatment.

Posted for the web by Maria Schmidt