What is ehrlichiosis?

Jump to

Ehrlichiosis: Overview

Ehrlichiosis (say "er-lih-kee-OH-sis") is a disease you can get from ticks. Ticks are small spiderlike animals that attach to your skin and feed on blood. Ehrlichiosis causes fever, chills, headache, nausea and vomiting, and a purple or red rash. Symptoms usually start 1 to 2 weeks after you get the tick bite. Ehrlichiosis can be treated with antibiotics.

Be sure to remove a tick from your body as soon as you find one. This helps you avoid an infection or any diseases the tick may pass on.


Ehrlichiosis is an infectious disease that can be passed to humans by ticks. It causes fever, chills, headache (often severe), general ill feeling (malaise), nausea and vomiting, and a purple or red rash.

Symptoms usually start from 1 to 2 weeks after the tick bite. Ehrlichiosis is usually treated with prescription medicine.

The disease most frequently occurs in the south-central, southeastern, and mid-Atlantic states.

How can you care for ehrlichiosis?

After a tick bite

  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.

Removing a tick

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to remove a tick. If you don't have tweezers, put on gloves or cover your hands with tissue paper, and then use your fingers. Do not handle the tick with bare hands.
    • Grab the tick as close to its mouth (the part that is stuck in your skin) as you can.
    • Gently pull the tick straight out until its mouth lets go of your skin. Do not twist or "unscrew" the tick.
    • If part of the tick stays in the skin, leave it alone. It will likely come out on its own in a few days.
  • Do not try to smother a tick on your skin with petroleum jelly, nail polish, gasoline, or rubbing alcohol. This may raise your risk of infection.
  • Do not try to burn the tick while it is attached to your skin.

Preventing tick bites

  • When you return home from areas where ticks might live, carefully examine your skin and scalp for ticks. Try using a full-length mirror to look at all parts of your body. Check your children too.
  • Ticks can come into your house on clothing, outdoor gear, and pets. These ticks can fall off and attach to you.
    • Check your clothing and outdoor gear. Remove any ticks you find. Then put your clothing in a clothes dryer on high heat for about 4 minutes to kill any ticks that might remain.
    • Check your pets for ticks after they have been outdoors.
  • Use insect repellents with DEET. Follow the directions on the label, especially when putting repellent on children.
  • Use products that contain 0.5% permethrin on your clothing and outdoor gear, such as your tent. You can also buy clothing already treated with permethrin.
  • Cover as much of your skin as you can when working or playing in grassy or wooded areas. Wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants with the legs tucked into your socks.
  • Wear light-colored clothes to make it easier to spot a tick.
  • Wear gloves when you handle animals or work in the woods.

Ehrlichiosis: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.
  • You have a headache or stiff neck.
  • You have a new or worse rash.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or worse weakness or muscle pain.
  • You have new joint pain.
  • You do not get better as expected.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.