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Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne disease caused by infection with Ehrlichia bacteria. Ticks are small, blood-sucking arachnids. Although some ticks carry disease-causing organisms, most do not. When an animal or person is bitten by a tick that carries bacteria, the bacteria are passed to that person or animal during the tick's feeding process. It is believed that the tick must remain attached to the person or animal for at least 24 hours to spread the infection.

There are two forms of ehrlichiosis in the United States; human monocytic ehrlichiosis and human granulocytic ehrlichiosis. Monocytic ehrlichiosis is caused by Ehrlichia chaffeensis, which is spread by the Lone Star tick, Amblyomma americanum. As of early 1998, about 400 cases of monocytic ehrlichiosis had been reported in 30 states, primarily in the southeastern and south central United States. The bacteria that causes granulocytic ehrlichiosis is not known, but suspected to be either Ehrlichia equi or Ehrlichia phagocytophila. Granulocytic ehrlichiosis is probably spread by the blacklegged tick Ixodes scapularis (which also spreads Lyme disease). About 100 cases of granulocytic ehrlichiosis have been reported in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin.

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