Granulocytic ehrlichiosis: an emerging or rediscovered tick-borne disease?
The Ehrlichieae are Gram-negative obligately intracellular bacterial pathogens. They can be divided into at least 3 genogroups on the basis of 16S rRNA gene sequences, but are also classified by target cell specificity. A group of granulocytic ehrlichiae primarily infect neutrophils and fall into genogroup II. The granulocytic ehrlichiae are subdivided by their target hosts, i.e. Ehrlichia phagocytophila in cattle and sheep, E. equi in horses, and the agents of human (HGE) and llama (LGE) granulocytic ehrlichioses. However, these subdivisions may give a false impression, as all these species are closely related both antigenically and on the basis of 16S rRNA operon sequence. In addition, cross-species transmission can occur naturally or by experimental infection. The vectors for these granulocytic ehrlichiae are ixodid ticks, and the reservoir hosts are probably wild rodents, deer and sheep. In each host, this illness presents as a febrile disease which can be followed by immunosuppression leading to secondary infections.