Doctors may be Overlooking Ehrlichia Infection When Testing for Tick-Bourne Illnesses

A study carried out by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests that doctors in the state may not be testing patients for Ehrlichia infection often enough. For more information, you can view the original study here, on the CDC’s website. Alternatively, the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases has released an article about the findings here.


Ehrlichiosis is an infectious disease cause be bacteria of the genus Ehrlichia that can develop after being bitten by a tick. Symptoms usually begin to develop around one to two weeks after being bitten, and early symptoms may include a fever, headaches, muscle aches, confusion, nausea and diarrhoea, and a rash. If the ehrlichiosis continues to a late-stage, the disease can lead to damage to the brain or nervous system, and organ and respiratory failure. Early treatment with antibiotics is crucial for reducing the risk of late-stage ehrlichiosis. This information is based on the CDC’s website, and for more information, click here.

The Scientists’ Research into Diagnosis

To investigate how often doctors are testing patients for Ehrlichia, researchers from UNC carried out a retrospective study. They looked into all the cases of patients who had been tested (using blood protein tests) for tickborne illnesses at the University of North Carolina hospitals and clinics over a three-month period. In total, the researchers used the records of 194 patients. Of these, the majority (79%) were tested for SFGR (which includes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever), and for Lyme disease (66%). However, only approximately one in three patients (36%) were tested for Ehrlichia.

Test Results

Out of the 154 patients who were tested for SFGR approximately one quarter showed positive results, and one patient out of 128 was found to have Lyme disease after being tested for it. However, out of the seventy patients checked for Ehrlichia, nine (13%) were found to have it. When the researchers retrospectively tested for Ehrlichia in the 124 patients who were not originally checked for it, they found positive results for 25.

The Implications

While testing for Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (SFGR) is extremely important, these results suggest that doctors in North Carolina may be overlooking ehrlichiosis as another potential cause of patients’ symptoms. The researchers conclude that there’s a need for “state-wide education efforts” about ehrlichiosis to “improve provider awareness and approaches to this potentially severe disease.”

Anna Hewitt

Anna Hewitt

Anna is from England and recently finished her undergraduate degree. She has an interest in medicine and enjoys writing. In her spare time she likes to cook, hike, and hang out with cats.

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