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Ticks Carry Fatal Disease That Has Flu-Like Symptoms

The tick that carries Lyme disease also carries an illness that has stricken at least 60 people nationwide with flu-like symptoms, killing four, scientists said Wednesday.

The disease, called human granulocytic ehrlichiosis, or HGE, can be treated with a common antibiotic, but the scientist who identified it says treatment is often delayed because victims confuse it with a summer flu.

“If you think you have the flu now, you probably don’t,” advises Dr. Johan Bakken, an infectious disease specialist at the Duluth Clinic in Minnesota, who has been monitoring the disease since 1990.

Bakken wrote an article about the disease last year with Dr. J. Stephen Dumler of the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore for the Journal of the American Medical Association. They said it was spread by ticks and speculated that the deer tick, which carries Lyme disease, was the type responsible.

About 60 cases have been confirmed nationwide so far, but dozens of other cases of illness from tick bites fit the pattern, Dumler said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reports at least two deaths between 1990-93 from the disease in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Bakken said Wednesday that he has found four deaths in the upper Midwest attributable to ehrlichiosis.

In contrast, federal health officials have yet to document a single death out of tens of thousands of cases of Lyme disease.


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