Anaplasmosis: Tests, Diagnosis & Treatments

Tick-borne diseases are ramping up in the United States. More and more people are falling ill with these infections for various reasons. One reason is due to the prevalence of higher tick populations as a result of climate change, making the conditions for their survival that much easier. 

While Lyme disease is often the most-talked about tick-borne disease, others can be just as harmful to your health. One of those is anaplasmosis. But what is anaplasmosis, and what is the best treatment? 

What Is Anaplasmosis? 

Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne illness, as previously mentioned, that is transferred to humans through the bites of infected ticks. The ticks most likely to spread anaplasmosis are the black-legged tick and the western black-legged tick. Black-legged ticks are common in areas where ticks are primarily found, such as the Northeastern area of the country and the upper Midwestern states. They thrive in humid and warm conditions that have low-lying vegetation. 

The illness anaplasmosis is caused by a bacteria known as Anaplasma phagocytophilum. These bacteria are gram-negative and can cause disease in animals such as sheep and cattle as well as humans. When it occurs in animals, it is called tick-borne fever or pasture fever. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Anaplasmosis? 

After the initial tick bite, signs and symptoms of anaplasmosis will take anywhere from one to two weeks to appear. Since the tick bite is often painless and people are unaware they’ve been bitten, it can be challenging to determine if the symptoms are caused by a tick-borne illness or something else. 

Other than being unaware of a bite, the reason is that the early illness signs are similar to a moderate or mild cold or flu infection. The first one to five days of the disease will present with symptoms, such as: 

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, vomiting and nausea 
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise 

If a person isn’t aware they have anaplasmosis and their doctor mistakes their symptoms for another type of infection, it will progress to a stage known as late illness. 

The symptoms of late illness can also present as a complication in people with preexisting health conditions. The signs of severe illness caused by an anaplasmosis infection include:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Bleeding problems
  • Organ failure
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death 

Older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for a severe anaplasmosis infection. People that fall into this category include: 

  • Cancer patients
  • People with HIV infections
  • People taking immunosuppressant medications
Image by Winel Sutanto on Unsplash: Is anaplasmosis curable? 

What Are The Tests For Anaplasmosis?

Diagnosing anaplasmosis can be challenging because the early infection has symptoms resembling other conditions. To diagnose anaplasmosis, doctors must perform a combinational approach that includes a history of tick exposure, a collection of current symptoms and lab testing. 

Five possible tests can be used to help doctors reach a definitive diagnosis of anaplasmosis. The tests are: 

  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  • Serology (indirect immunofluorescence antibody IFA assay)
  • Microscopic examination of a peripheral blood smear
  • Culture or bacterial isolation 
  • Immunohistochemical (IHC) assay 

Doctors tend to lean more toward PCR and microscopy tests in people with acute disease. Serology is often used in those with infections that have lasted a long time or are more severe. Treatment starts during the testing phase because diagnosing the disease can be challenging. The longer a person has it, the more at risk they are for a more severe infection. 

What Is The Differential Diagnosis Of Anaplasmosis? 

There are several differential diagnoses for anaplasmosis because of the symptoms and how it is caused. Some possible differential diagnoses include: 

  • Human monocytotropic ehrlichiosis (HME) 
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever 
  • Relapsing fever
  • Tularemia 
  • Lyme disease
  • Colorado tick fever
  • Babesiosis  

These conditions can cause issues with the diagnosis of anaplasmosis or be confused with anaplasmosis because of similar symptoms. 

Image by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash: What is the best treatment for anaplasmosis?

Is Anaplasmosis The Same As Lyme Disease? 

While anaplasmosis and Lyme disease are caused by a bacterial infection contracted from a tick bite, they are not the same. Different bacteria are to blame for the conditions. Even though some of the symptoms are similar, they do not come with the same long-term complications or effects. 

What Is The First Line Of Treatment For Anaplasmosis? 

Antibiotics are the first choice treatment for anaplasmosis because it is a bacterial infection. One specific antibiotic, doxycycline, is used to treat the condition in adults and children of all ages. This antibiotic is the most effective at preventing severe health complications and has been proven safe in most people. People typically feel better within 24 to 48 hours when taking doxycycline for anaplasmosis.

How Long Is Recovery From Anaplasmosis? 

The time it takes to recover from anaplasmosis varies depending on certain factors, such as how quickly a person sought treatment and how severe their illness is. People can start to feel better within two days. 

People who do not get antibiotics for their infection or take ineffective medication could deal with the illness for as long as 60 days. That is why early treatment is so necessary when a person has anaplasmosis. 

Since anaplasmosis is another tick-borne illness, the best thing you can do to avoid it is avoid getting bitten by ticks. You can do this by wearing bug spray and light-colored and loose-fitting clothing while out in wooded areas, and by checking thoroughly for ticks when you arrive home. 

Featured image by Erik Karits on Unsplash: How do you get anaplasmosis?

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