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Tissue diagnosis of Ehrlichia chaffeensis in patients with fatal ehrlichiosis by use of immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization, and polymerase chain reaction.

In the United States, human ehrlichiosis is a complex of emerging tick-borne diseases caused by 3 distinct Ehrlichia species: Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Ehrlichia ewingii, and the human granulocytotropic ehrlichiosis agent. Ehrlichioses are characterized by a mild to severe illness, and approximately 4% of cases are fatal. Because these obligate intracellular bacteria are difficult to resolve with routine histologic techniques, their distribution in tissues has not been well described. To facilitate the visualization and detection of ehrlichiae, immunohistochemistry (IHC), in situ hybridization (ISH), and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays were developed by use of tissues from 4 fatal cases of E. chaffeensis infection. Evidence of E. chaffeensis via IHC, ISH, and PCR was documented in all 4 cases. Abundant immunostaining and in situ nucleic acid hybridization were observed in spleen and lymph node from all 4 patients. Significantly, in 2 of these patients, serologic evidence of infection was absent. Use of IHC, ISH, and PCR to visualize and detect Ehrlichia in tissues can facilitate diagnosis of ehrlichial infections.

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