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Ticks are small, parasitic creatures that feed off the blood of animals, and people, and spread disease. In addition to well known infections such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease, ticks also carry bacteria that worsen autoimmune disease.

Ticks are tiny, eight-legged parasitic creatures, often too small to be seen with the naked eye, that carry destructive, even deadly infectious diseases.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a potentially deadly infection spread by dog ticks caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii. As its name suggests, the disease causes infected persons to break out in distinctive red spots, but the most common tick transmitting the disease itself is actually more common east of the Rocky Mountains than in the Rocky Mountains themselves.

Lyme disease is an all too common infection in both the United States and Europe. It is spread by several kinds of ticks that are found in almost all of the United States and southern Canada. 

Causing a distinctive bullseye rash, many of the health problems caused by Lyme disease last for years.

And ticks are also known to transmit anaplasmosis, babseosis, erlichiosis, rickettsiosis, and tularemia. A newly discovered tick borne infection, however, is especially deadly to people who have autoimmune diseases or B-cell lymphoma.

A Germ That Targets Overactive and Weakened Immune Systems

Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis, the newly discovered tick-borne bacterial infection, has been diagnosed in Europe and in China. About half of people who are infected with the bacteria already have either autoimmune disease (such as lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, or rheumatoid arthritis) of a form of cancer known as B cell lymphoma. 

This infection is especially like to strike people who have had their spleens removed. It also tends to take hold in people who are receiving chemotherapy or immunotherapy for B cell lymphoma or kidney cancer.

"If an immune-suppressed, high-risk patient (middle-aged, with B cell malignancy, autoimmune disease, ongoing immune suppression such as rituximab, chemotherapy, or corticosteroids) has evidence of systemic inflammation, which does not seem to fit with either infection or recurrence of the underlying disease, pan-bacterial PCR should be performed to rule out/in Ca Neoehrlichia mikurensis,"  researcher Dr. Christine Wennerås from Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Goteborg, Sweden is quoted telling the Reuter's news agency.

Deadly Symptoms in Sick People

The most striking feature of infections with this newly discovered germ is its ability to trigger the formation of blood clots.

About half of the people who are infected with the bacteria have complications caused by clots, such as heart attack or stroke.

It appears the the germ uses clotting factors from the blood to build a protective cloak around itself to protect it from white blood cells. Most of the people infected with the bacterium who did not develop deadly problems with blood clots have been on preventative anticoagulant therapy with drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin), heparin (Lovenox), and clopidogrel (Plavix).

Every case of Candidatus Neoehrlichia mikurensis infection has been accompanied by high fever, whole body aches and inflammation but especially intense localized pain. Doctors have found that amoxicillin, clindamycin,  penicillin, third-generation cephalosporins, aminoglycosides, and quinolone all fail to contain symptoms, but that the antibiotic doxycycline begins to control symptoms in about half of patients in about 5 days. Sometimes, however, there simply isn't an antibiotic that works.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Boogs W. Tick-Borne Bacterium Mimics Worsening of B Cell Malignancies, Autoimmune Diseases. Reuters Health. Accessed 9 June 2014.
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  • Photo courtesy of mikael altemark by Flickr :

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