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Human granulocytic ehrlichiosis in Europe.

Human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE) is a tick-borne zoonosis caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum. A MEDLINE literature search revealed that the European story of HGE began in 1995 with an article on the presence of serum antibodies to A. phagocytophilum. At present, there is seroepidemiological information indicating the presence of infection with HGE agent(s) for several European countries; seroprevalence rates range from zero or very low to up to 28%. The proportion of seropositive persons increases with age and is higher in persons exposed to ticks. Knowledge of the causative agent of HGE and of animal reservoirs in Europe is limited. Ixodes ricinus is a recognized vector of A. phagocytophilum in Europe. Prevalence of the agent in questing I. ricinus is usually higher in adult ticks than in nymphs and ranges from zero or very low to > 30%. Pronounced differences between countries and marked variability by localities were established. Up to March 2003 about 65 human patients (all but one were adults) with confirmed HGE and several patients fulfilling criteria for probable HGE had been reported. The majority of them came from Central Europe (Slovenia) and Scandinavia (Sweden) but there are individual reports from several other European countries. The patients presented with an acute febrile illness that as a rule occurred after a tick bite; the majority had leukopenia and/or thrombocytopenia, elevated concentration of C-reactive protein and mild abnormalities of liver function test results. A small number of patients does not permit reliable conclusions on the clinical features of European HGE; however, there is an impression that at least in central Europe (but maybe not in Scandinavia) the disease is, from the clinical angle, only mild to moderately severe and (most likely) self-limited. The relatively high proportion of the population with HGE serum antibodies and the presence of A. phagocytophilum (like) agent(s) in ticks, small mammals and deer as found in several European countries are discordant with the rather low number of patients with proven HGE. The discordance may indicate inadequate awareness among European physicians, limited recording and reporting of the disease, and/or the presence of and the infection of humans with nonpathogenic A. phagocytophilum (like) strains present in ticks. Additional studies are needed to better define the biological and public health significance of HGE in Europe.

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