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August 4th, 2011

Ticks and Ehrlichia – One Man's Tale


By now you may have heard about the new bacterium discovered by the Mayo Clinic Health System at Eau Claire, Wisconsin and identified by researchers at Mayo's Rochester campus. Here's the release and the original blogpost. It's carried by ticks and has infected over 25 people thus far in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Here is the story of one of the first persons to encounter this new disease -- Mr. Tom Anderson of Madison, Wisconsin. He tells the tale for us in real time here as it happened to him in June of 2009:

How a little bitty bug got me down big time!

Spent most of last week on the 11th floor of Meriter Hospital where I had been held captive, victim of a creature called Ixodes scapularis. Better known as a deer tick.

Started feeling bad Saturday afternoon and laid low all weekend. By Monday afternoon I was running 103-104 degree temps, sweating like I was living in a sauna, general overall aches and pains, with chills and shakes so bad I could not get a shirt buttoned. Blood in urine and a spray of red when I blow my nose.  So into the ER they haul this big Norske.

Tom Anderson

With the Swine Flu panic in full swing, everybody around me was adorned in bright yellow plastic smocks with matching masks and clear face shields making them look like aliens. I had some of the symptoms but not all. No vomiting, diarrhea or headaches. If it’s not swine flu then what is it?

Mosquitoes are abundant so they look for West Nile symptoms. Nope.

Had been spraying lots of Roundup lately so lets check that out. Nope.

Several other possibilities checked, but still nothing.

Two days later I was still feeling rotten and sweating big time.  Doc comes in and says, "Tom, this is something you don't want to hear from your doctor."

Am I dying? Will I have a few days to get my life in order? How long to I have? All these thoughts flashed through my mind before Doc's next statement.

"We don't know what you have, but we are getting close."

That second statement eased my mental anguish and offered a ray of hope but my shakes and sweats continued. By this time I had experienced 26 vials of blood taken (14 at one time), x-rays, CT scans, echo cardiograms and who knows what else

I kept telling them about a tick bite 10 days earlier while turkey hunting. I had found several ticks on my body each night and removed them easily. But this one was on my back and I missed it till 44+ hours later. When I did find,  the tick had buried itself into my skin and was very difficult to remove.

The bite did not exhibit any typical "target" redness or rash on the skin which was a signal for Lyme disease.  But it seemed like the tick bite was all that was left to check out. So off we go on that direction.

My blood samples were sent off to Mayo and Atlanta for analysis.

Finally, that’s it!!! Human Ehrlichiosis infected from a deer tick is the culprit.  The anti-biotic  Doxycycline is now added to the IV drip.  Its now Thursday afternoon.

I wake up Friday feeling tired but the best since this nasty episode started.

Still nurses and Docs run in and out dressed in alien gear. CDC in Atlanta has been notified. Only 8 cases of this disease last year here in Wisconsin so CDC is on board and must clear me after more blood tests. My blood count numbers began to improve by later Friday and the aliens turn out to be nice looking nurses after they take off the protective space suit gear.

Going home . . . nope. The high fevers and infection caused by that damn little bastard also had put my heart into A-Fib.

So here comes the “shock Doc” for a zap to get the heart back in rhythm.  Then something like platelet count, while building up nicely, is still too low to let me out. Saturday is the scheduled release day if I can get the platelet count up to 50.

Another blood draw at 6:00 am on Saturday.  At 8:00 am, two smiling nurses come in with “great news."  Count is at 90 and the Doc has issued release orders. I’m going home!

However, it will be a 3-5 week process getting the body back in shape and regaining my strength. I lost 9 pounds in the ordeal.

Generally speaking, if we can get the ticks off our body in 24 hours, they do not have time to bury in and release their poison. However, the tick that got me was on my body for 44+ hours.

Please be extra cautious about these little buggers. They are about the size of a poppy seed but sure laid out this 6'-5" 230 pound guy like nothing ever has as I had never even once been in a hospital overnight in my 67 years.  This episode was very serious for a couple of days until they made the correct diagnosis and got the proper antibiotic into my system.

Tags: bacteria, erlilcha, Findings, Mayo Clinic Health System, New England Journal of Medicine, pathology, People, Progress Updates, tick borne illness, ticks


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