Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne disease. Through their bites, ticks that carry the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum can transmit it to humans. In very rare instances, an organ transplant or blood transfusion can be the source of transmission.

If left untreated, anaplasmosis can cause serious complications. Read on to learn about the ticks that carry this disease. This article will cover where you find them, what to do if they bite you, and how to prevent bites.

Anaplasmosis vs. ehrlichiosis

Anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis are tick-borne illnesses.

Anaplasmosis spreads mostly through the bites of infected blacklegged deer ticks. Ehrlichiosis mostly spreads through the bites of infected lone star ticks.

Even though different bacteria are responsible, the two conditions have similar symptoms and treatments.

If you experience these symptoms and suspect a tick has bitten you, a healthcare professional will prescribe antibiotics. You don’t need to know what type of tick bit you. Oral antibiotics generally treat both anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis.

The ticks that cause anaplasmosis vary by region. In the Northeast and Midwest, the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) carries the bacterium that causes anaplasmosis. On the West Coast, the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) is the main offender.

Like all ticks, these ticks usually live in grassy or wooded areas. Wood piles, fallen logs, leaf piles, and overgrown shrubbery can contain ticks. Since they like moist environments, ticks can also live and thrive in damp stone walls and slimy or moss-covered structures.

You don’t have to be in a forest to come in contact with ticks. Ticks also live along coastal beaches and on city streets.

Since they bite animals as well as people, you and your pets can unknowingly bring ticks home with you. Ticks may lodge on the bottoms of your shoes or on other articles of clothing without you knowing it. Once inside, ticks can make themselves comfortable for several days in damp areas and clothing piles or hampers containing damp towels.

How to spot a blacklegged (deer) tick

Blacklegged (deer) ticks are around the size of sesame seeds. Their bodies are flat, oval-shaped, and orange-red. As the name implies, their legs are black.

Western blacklegged ticks are similar in appearance but have a more elongated body shape. Male ticks are also brownish-black rather than orange.

Both types of ticks become larger when engorged with blood.

In addition to anaplasmosis, blacklegged ticks also transmit Lyme disease and babesiosis.

female and male blacklegged ticksShare on Pinterest
Female (left) and male (right) blacklegged ticks. Bernard Lynch/Getty Images

Anaplasmosis symptoms typically occur within 1 to 2 weeks after a tick bite. They may be mild and go away on their own. In some cases, they can be severe.

Tick bites don’t usually hurt, so you may not know that a tick bit you. However, if you experience symptoms and have been in a location where ticks live, let your doctor know. Early treatment can help prevent complications.

Early anaplasmosis symptoms can mimic a bad cold or the flu. Typically, these symptoms last for 1 to 5 days. Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • chills
  • muscle pain or weakness
  • intense headaches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • reduced appetite
  • mental confusion (a less common symptom)

If you delay treatment, are older, or have a weakened immune system, you may be at higher risk for complications from anaplasmosis. While rare, complications may include:

When to see a doctor

If you have a tick bite, let your doctor know immediately. They may prescribe antibiotics for you, even if you don’t have any symptoms.

If you have anaplasmosis symptoms, let your doctor know, especially if you’ve been to places where ticks live.

Your doctor will give you a complete physical to assess your symptoms and to look for the presence of a tick or tick bite. Unlike Lyme disease, anaplasmosis does not cause a rash to form near the bite site.

To confirm anaplasmosis, a clinician may order several tests:

  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test: A PCR test looks for the specific bacterium that causes the infection. Still, a negative test does not rule out anaplasmosis.
  • Immunofluorescence antibody (IFA) assay: An IFA assay checks your blood for antibodies that your immune system makes in response to an infection from the bacterium.
  • Complete blood count (CBC) with differential: A CBC with differential also checks your immune system, but looks for specific types of white blood cells.
  • Peripheral blood smear: A peripheral blood smear might reveal small colonies of the bacteria.

The clinician will also test for other tick-borne illnesses like babesiosis or Lyme disease. It’s possible for multiple infections to happen at the same time.

Lab blood test results may take days or weeks to process. If a clinician suspects a tick-borne illness, they may start you on treatment before getting your results back.

The standard treatment for anaplasmosis is doxycycline. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s the most effective at avoiding serious complications. For the best results, a doctor should start you on doxycycline as early as possible after infection.

A doctor will likely have you take doxycycline for 10 to 14 days. But symptoms should start to get better in 1 to 2 days.

Doxycycline is available in pill, capsule, liquid, or intravenous (IV) form.

If you’re allergic to doxycycline or are pregnant, a doctor might prescribe rifampin instead.

What to do if you get bitten by a tick

  • If you see a tick embedded in your skin, remove it immediately. Here’s how:
    • Use a sterilized, fine-tipped tweezer.
    • Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as you can, and pull in an upward motion without twisting.
    • Make sure to get the entire tick out.
  • Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet. Do not throw a living tick outside or in the garbage.
  • Clean the area on your skin with antibacterial soap and water or with rubbing alcohol.
  • Check your body, face, and scalp for evidence of more ticks.
  • Let a healthcare professional know that a tick bit you. Based on your age and overall health, they may or may not recommend early prophylactic treatment.
  • Tick bite symptoms may not start for several weeks after the bite has occurred. Keep an eye out for symptoms, including mild symptoms, for 30 days.
  • If symptoms occur, let a healthcare professional know.

The best way to avoid anaplasmosis and other tick-borne illnesses is to prevent tick bites from happening.

Ticks are usually at their most active during warm weather. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy being outdoors. Whether you’re barbecuing in your own backyard or going for a hike in the woods, follow these precautionary steps:

  • Spray or treat your clothing, shoes, and gear with tick-repellent products that contain 0.5% permethrin.
  • People ages 3 and older can use EPA-registered insect repellents directly on the skin and scalp. Make sure to avoid your eyes, nose, and mouth. Some insect repellents are also safe for younger toddlers and babies. Ask your child’s pediatrician for their recommendations.
  • If you will be in areas where ticks live, protect yourself by covering up as much as possible. Socks, long pants with elastic ankle cuffs, long-sleeved shirts, and hats are all good choices.
  • While outdoors, it’s best to walk in the center of trails and avoid log and leaf piles.
  • Once you come home, check your clothing, shoes, and gear for signs of ticks.
  • Check your entire body. Don’t forget your scalp, underarms, and the backs of your legs.
  • Shower and wash your hair as soon as possible.

Ticks feed off birds and mammals of all types, including domestic pets, wildlife, and livestock. Any animal not protected by tick repellent may get anaplasmosis from an infected tick.

Horses and dogs that go outdoors are more likely to get tick-borne illnesses than indoor animals, like house cats and gerbils. Keep in mind that your outdoor animals may bring ticks indoors, which can also make your indoor animals vulnerable to infection.

If your pet gets a tick bite, let their veterinarian know immediately.

Symptoms of anaplasmosis in animals may vary, but can include:

  • lameness
  • fever
  • reduced appetite
  • lethargy
  • joint pain
  • diarrhea
  • coughing
  • vomiting
  • nose bleeds
  • pinpoint bruises

Dogs can also get a form of anaplasmosis from the brown dog tick. The offending bacteria, in this case, is A. platys. Symptoms of this form include:

  • bruising
  • bleeding, especially nose bleeds
  • fever
  • weakness
  • lethargy
  • eye discharge
  • difficulty breathing
  • thickened nose or paws

Seizures are a very rare symptom of anaplasmosis in animals.

Doxycycline can also treat anaplasmosis in pets. But don’t give your dog the same medication a doctor prescribed for you if you also had a tick bite. Only a vet can determine the right dosage for your pet.

Can I get anaplasmosis from my pet?

There are no known cases of animal-to-human transmission of anaplasmosis. There are also no known cases of animal-to-animal transmission.

But you can indirectly get anaplasmosis from your pet if they bring ticks inside on their fur. Check any animal for ticks, especially if they have been in wooded or tall grassy areas.

Ticks are more likely to seek out hosts (questing) during warmer weather. But there are many other factors that influence the questing behavior of ticks. For this reason, outdoor animals should receive tick-repellant year-round.

Is anaplasmosis more serious than Lyme disease?

Both anaplasmosis and Lyme disease have the potential to be serious. Both conditions can cause mild to severe symptoms.

Lyme disease may cause debilitating, long-term symptoms, such as facial palsy, impaired memory, and neuropathy.

According to the CDC, Lyme disease is rarely life threatening.

Can you die from anaplasmosis?

Yes, but it’s rare. About 3% to 7% of people with anaplasmosis develop a life threatening complication. Fewer than 1% die from the infection.

You may be at higher risk if you are older or have a weakened immune system. If you leave anaplasmosis symptoms untreated, you increase your risk of complications.

How long does a tick need to stay attached to you before it can transmit the bacteria that causes anaplasmosis?

Many state and federal agencies give varying estimates, ranging from 12 to 36 hours.

No matter which is the most accurate estimate, it’s important to act quickly. Remove the tick immediately, even if you think it has only been there for a few minutes.

Can anaplasmosis be spread from person to person?

No. Anaplasmosis spreads through ticks that carry the bacteria. If you have an infection, you cannot pass it to another person. If someone has anaplasmosis, you do not need to avoid them, even if you have a weakened immune system.

Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne illness you get from the blacklegged (deer) tick. These ticks are most common in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Coast areas of the United States.

Anaplasmosis symptoms are similar to the flu. They can range from mild to severe. Serious complications can occur but are most likely to affect older individuals and people with weakened immune systems.

Doxycycline, an antibiotic, is the most commonly used treatment for anaplasmosis. Talk with a healthcare professional as soon as possible about your tick bite. They can start you on doxycycline to help prevent serious complications.