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New Tick-Borne Disease on the Rise in Some Areas

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People who had supposedly recovered from ehrlichiosis reported more symptoms than those who never had the disease: 5.4 times more fevers, 4.5 times more chills, twice as much fatigue, and three times more sweats. They also reported significantly more bodily pain and rated their relative health lower than the normal people. But there was no difference in physical function, impairment of daily activities, general health, or vitality.

"One possibility is that people do have chronic HGE infection," Belongia tells WebMD. He says that it may be that even once they are treated, Ehrlichia lingers in the body's tissues. However, Belongia -- a researcher at Marshfield Medical Research Foundation in Madison, Wis. -- notes that there are other explanations. The patients who had HGE once may have been more likely to get HGE again. Or maybe patients who had recently gotten over a serious illness were more sensitive about their health, and thus more likely to report symptoms than other people.

In another conference presentation, Allison Liddell, MD, of Washington University in St. Louis, reported the first case history of a person who got HME twice. The man, a liver-transplant recipient taking drugs that suppress the immune system, came down with the disease in June 1997 and again in May 1999. Both times, he quickly got better after treatment with antibiotics.

Liddell says she doesn't think the immune-suppressing drugs made the man more likely to be infected. "We've now got a large number of patients with HME," she tells WebMD. "I can't say that the immunocompromised patients do any worse."

Can normal people get the disease more than once? Liddell says there should be an answer very soon. "We currently have many people in our area who have had ehrlichiosis and -- despite our warnings -- continue to get bitten by ticks," she says. "They don't think anything of it, so we'll see."

 

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