By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

As any person knows who works or plays outside a lot, bugs and insects of many types can cause issues, especially at certain times of the year. Spending time in the Great Outdoors provides plenty of healthy and pleasurable benefits, but one of the most troublesome critters that must be contended with is the tick. Ticks feed on both animals and humans by embedding themselves in the skin of their host and feasting on the host’s blood. There are many types of ticks that can infect an individual with a variety of illnesses. Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks that are carrying a specific bacteria known as Ehrlichia chaffeensis. In most cases, ehrlichiosis is passed to people from the bite of a species called the Lone Star tick, but other types of ticks can transmit it as well. Infections can range from mild to serious enough to warrant a stay in the hospital. Fortunately, ehrlichiosis – and all other tick-borne diseases – can be prevented or treated through numerous natural, non-invasive methods, many of which involve plain old common sense and protective measures that help to avoid getting a tick bite in the first place

Causes of Ehrlichiosis

A tick that is carrying the bacteria responsible for ehrlichiosis usually contracts it by biting an animal that already has the illness. Two of the most common types of wildlife that carry ehrlichiosis are white-tailed deer and coyotes, both of which are prevalent throughout North America. However, livestock and pets can also be infected with ehrlichiosis. Oftentimes, all of these host animals were originally infected with the bacteria by a bite from a tick. Thus, it works both ways – from tick to host and vice versa.

In most cases, people come down with ehrlichiosis from the bite of an infected tick. However, it is possible to get the illness via blood transfusions or for it to be passed from mother to fetus in the womb. Another potential source of ehrlichiosis is contact with a slaughtered animal that has the illness or is carrying the bacteria. For you deer hunters out there, it is critical that you are very careful when slaughtering a deer to avoid direct contact with the animal’s blood or raw body parts. Always wear rubber or vinyl gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly. This can help to prevent other tick-borne conditions too, such as Lyme disease, for example.

When an infected tick attaches itself to your body, it will transmit the bacteria into your skin and eventually enter your bloodstream, which is how the infection gets a foothold in your system. However, in most cases, it takes 24 hours or more for the bacteria to infect you, so if you can locate and properly remove the tick within that time frame, the chances of getting ehrlichiosis are greatly reduced. Without intervention, a tick will feed for days or weeks until it becomes engorged with your blood and may end up much larger than its original size. This is why finding and dealing with ticks early is so important (more on that later in this article).

Spring and early summer are when tick activity is at its peak, but the Lone Star and other types of ticks can survive and attach themselves to hosts at any time of the year, especially in warmer climates. The Lone Star tick is found throughout North America, with its favorite habitats being the eastern, southeastern, and south-central states in the US. Their concentration is greatest in tall, grassy areas or in thick, uncleared woods. When hiking, camping, or working (if possible), try to stay on trails or in clearings where ticks are less likely to congregate.

Symptoms of Ehrliciosis

The symptoms of this condition often mimic the flu, especially in its early stages of development. Typical signs of ehrlichiosis infection are :

  • Muscle aches
  • Low-grade fever
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Some people may also experience:

  • Joint pain
  • Mental confusion
  • Rash (at the site of the tick bite and/or elsewhere)

Otherwise healthy individuals will likely recover, especially with appropriate treatment. However, people whose immune systems are compromised or are struggling with existing health conditions can develop a much more serious case of ehrlichiosis with potentially life-threatening complications such as:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart failure
  • Seizures
  • Coma

What if I Discover a Tick Bite?

If you suspect you may have been bitten by an infected tick, there are certain tests that your healthcare professional can order to help determine a diagnosis. Standard blood tests may indicate reduced levels of white blood cells, platelets (structures in red blood cells), or poor liver function, all of which can point to ehrlichiosis, but are by no means definitive.
There are two other tests available that are specifically designed to check for ehrlichiosis, and you may want to request these:

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): This test looks for the presence of specific genes that are associated with ehrlichiosis.
  • Indirect Fluorescent Antibody (IFA): This measures the amount of blood antibodies that are typically produced by the body of a person fighting ehrlichiosis.

As with any diagnostic procedure or test, do your research and talk with your healthcare professional to choose the most appropriate options for your particular situation.
If it is determined that you have ehrlichiosis, the most common way conventional medicine treats it is with antibiotics. This may be best in some situations. The rare use of antibiotics can help to combat certain bacterial infections such as ehrlichiosis. However, keep in mind that overuse of antibiotic drugs will actually weaken your body’s natural immune defenses by creating resistance to the drugs. Antibiotics also kill helpful bacteria and other flora in the body, thus harming your system even further. If you do take an antibiotic, be sure to use a quality probiotic product to replenish and protect the “good” bacteria/flora your digestive track, where 75-80% of your immune system is located, needs to flourish.
Alternatives to antibiotic drugs include substances such as wild Mediterranean oregano oil, ParaPure™, Lauricidin©, ACS200 and tea tree oil that all have excellent natural antibiotic properties. They may be consumed orally in a capsule or mixed with juice or other beverages. Use of these alternatives will also strengthen your overall immune system, thus helping to prevent future infections and other illnesses of all types.

Preventing Ehrlichiosis

This condition is very preventable. The three most effective ways to avoid ehrlichiosis are:

  • Dress properly: If you must enter an area that is likely to have a heavy tick population, learning how to dress correctly is an essential preventative measure. Wear light-colored clothing, as ticks will be easier to see if they hitch a ride. Also wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants that are tucked into your socks. A higher type of boot or shoe is also recommended. If you have long hair, tie it up or back to avoid snagging ticks. Remove outer clothing prior to entering your home and shake it out before checking it for ticks.
  • Learn to examine and remove: If you have spent time in tick country, it is important to do a daily examination of your body to check for any that may have attached themselves. (Don’t forget to do a “tick check” on your pets too). Do it systematically from head to toe using your hands and a mirror if possible. Just before showering or bathing is a great time for this routine. Sometimes ticks like to hide in folds of skin, so it is important to be very thorough.
  • If you do discover a tick, don’t panic. If it has not been attached for more than 24 hours, the chances of contracting ehrlichiosis is slim. (This is why daily inspections are so vital). If you find one that is engorged with blood, your chances of infection are much greater.
  • There is a right way and a wrong way to remove a tick, and learning proper technique is essential. Never try to put a match to it or “suffocate” it with vaseline or any other substance. These approaches can actually stimulate the creature to release more bacteria into your system.
  • The best way to remove a tick is to use a pair of tweezers and grip it as close as possible to the mouth parts that are embedded in your skin (never pull on the body of the tick). If mouth parts remain, remove them separately with the tweezers and then apply alcohol, peroxide and/or ACS 200 to the site.
  • Kill the tick by placing it in an alcohol solution, which will also preserve it if you want to keep it for testing later. Never crush a tick with your fingers. It is difficult to kill them this way, and it can spread more bacteria if they are infected.
  • Use a natural repellent: There are many natural insect repellents available that can repel ticks and other unwanted guests. Find a high quality one that uses safe, organic ingredients to do the job. Never use commercial repellents that contain DEET or other hazardous chemicals unless you are fully aware of possible health consequences. Such products can pass through your skin and enter your bloodstream spreading potentially cancer-causing toxins throughout the body. Repelling ticks is necessary, but don’t put your health at risk in the process.
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