Ehrlichiosis remains a problem in 2016
Authors: Michael Yabsley, PhD, FRES and Emilio DeBess, DVM, MPVM
Ehrlichiosis, a tick-borne disease that can affect both dogs and humans, will continue to pose a problem in the United States this year, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC).
Although ehrlichiosis is generally common to western Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri, these regions are expected to have even higher activity this year. Increased activity is also forecasted for southern California and throughout the southeast, especially east of the Mississippi River. Arkansas, where ehrlichiosis infections are common, may see less activity this year, but the prevalence is expected to remain high in the region, so CAPC recommends continued vigilance and year-round tick control.
What is Ehrlichiosis?
Ehrlichiosis is a disease caused by one or more different species of bacteria that infect white blood cells. Dogs get infected through the bite of a different species of infected ticks, such as the brown dog tick, the American dog tick or the lone star tick.
Infected dogs may show no signs at all, or there may be vague signs, such as fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, or nose bleeds. In some cases, chronic infection can lead to arthritis and bone marrow suppression (which can be fatal). This is why early diagnosis and treatment are critical.
Humans and other pets in your household can’t catch ehrlichiosis directly from an infected dog. However, infected dogs mean there may be infected ticks in the area that could transmit the bacteria to other household members.
Year-round tick control can help safeguard your dog
Within any geographic area, there may be several different kinds of ticks and each tick can potentially harbor more than one disease-causing agent. People generally consider the summer to be the only time that dogs and people are at risk of getting ticks; however, some species of ticks, for example brown dog ticks and black-legged ticks, can be active throughout the winter. In addition, brown dog ticks can live indoors increasing risk of year-around exposure. Even though avoiding tall grass and wooded areas can help to minimize your dog’s exposure to ticks, there is still a risk of infection. That’s why CAPC recommends year-round tick control and regular screening tests for dogs.
There is no vaccine to prevent ehrlichiosis, so it is essential to use a tick control product that’s recommended by your veterinarian as being right for your dog. Even with tick control, it’s a good idea to carefully check your dog’s entire body and remove attached ticks as soon as possible. Always use tweezers or other tick-removal devices and wear gloves to prevent exposure to disease-causing agents.
The science behind the forecasts
How are the CAPC Ehrlichiosis Forecasts determined? Numerous factors are analyzed, including the number of positive tests for the bacterial infection and the influence of weather patterns, vegetation types, the changing distribution of wildlife that may harbor the parasite, and human population density. Leading parasitologists work in collaboration with a team of statisticians to identify regions of the country that may experience higher parasite numbers in the months ahead. While these forecasts predict the potential risk of a dog testing positive, they do not necessarily reflect clinical disease. Learn more
Stay current on activity in your area
To help you identify the risk for ehrlichiosis in your geographic area, CAPC provides Parasite Prevalence Maps for each state on a county-to-county level. The maps report the number of dogs testing positive for the bacteria in your area, as well as in other regions where you may travel with your pet.
Because tick activity can change, CAPC can provide you with email alerts for your area. Go to the CAPC Tick-Borne Disease Agents Prevalence Maps and click on “Get updates.” Enter your email address and click “Subscribe.” You will receive updates as they are posted.
It’s important to protect your dog and yourself from ehrlichiosis. And the more you know about the risks in your area, the better prepared you’ll be. As always, your veterinarian is your best resource for expert advice on how to protect your pet from parasites.