Wildlife Disease and Zoonotics


Date of this Version



Published in JOURNAL OF CLINICAL MICROBIOLOGY, 0095-1137/99 Mar. 1999, p. 558–564


An indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA) was used to identify patients with antibodies reactive to the human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE) agent. Serum samples collected from clinically ill individuals were submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by physicians via state health departments from throughout the United States and tested against a panel of ehrlichial and rickettsial pathogens. Antibodies reactive to the HGE agent were detected in 142 (8.9%) of 1,602 individuals tested. There were 19 confirmed and 59 probable (n = 78) cases of HGE as defined by seroconversion or a fourfold or higher titer to the HGE agent than to the Ehrlichia chaffeensis antigens. The average age of patients with HGE was 57 years, and males accounted for 53 (68%) of the patients. Cases of HGE occurred in 21 states; 47 (60%) of the cases occurred in Connecticut (n = 14), New York (n = 18), and Wisconsin (n = 15). Onset of HGE was identified from April through December, with cases peaking in June and July. The earliest confirmed cases of HGE occurred in 1987 in Wisconsin and 1988 in Florida. No fatalities were reported among the 78 patients with confirmed or probable HGE. Reactivity to the HGE agent and to either Coxiella burnetii, Rickettsia rickettsii, or Rickettsia typhi was infrequent; however, 74 (52%) of the 142 individuals who were positive for HGE had at least one serum sample that also reacted to the E. chaffeensis antigen. Thirty-four persons with confirmed or probable human monocytic ehrlichiosis due to E. chaffeensis also had antibodies to the HGE agent in at least one serum sample. The specific etiologic agent for 30 patients was not ascribed because of similarity of titers to both ehrlichial antigens. The use of both antigens may be required to correctly diagnose most cases of human ehrlichiosis, especially in geographic regions where both the HGE agent and E. chaffeensis occur.