A potentially mortal disease affecting dogs and humans, caused by a parasite called Rickettsia rickettsii which is transmitted by ticks ("american dog tick" and "wood tick").
Following a tick bite, the organism invades the body and is dispersed in the blood where it causes dammages to the vessels' cells. These contract, inflammation ensues, and coagulation is activated. The cells of the affected tissues die, the number of platelets decreases, and there is an accumulation of fluid in the lungs, brain, and skin. The severity dammages to the organs (especially the kidneys, brain, heart, and skin) depends on the degree of local dammages. In explosive cases, inflammation can spread throughout the whole body.
The disease can be characterized as clinical or subclinical (no obvious symptoms present).
When an animal is symptomatic, this can be localized to the affected organs or can be generalized.
The symptoms are vague:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Fever 2 to 3 days after exposure
- Coughing and difficulty breathing
- Skin lesions: petechiae (small red spots on the skin and the gums), ecchymosis (bruising), edema (water accumulation), vesicles (blisters).
Other parasitic diseases:
- Acute Ehrlichiosis
- Immune-mediated disease
- Bacterial discospondylitis
- Acute renal failure
- Light to severe anemia, decrease in platelet number, decrease or increase in white blood cells.
- Decrease in the amount of proteins and albumin, sodium, and calcium.
- Increase in renal and hepatic enzymes.
Analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid (if there are neurological symptoms): Increase in proteins and white blood cells.
- Antibody titer
- Immunofluorescence to detect antigens in the tissues (biopsy or autopsy)
- DNA tests
- Organism culture: not often done
Antibiotics for a period of 2 to 3 weeks
Corticosteroids: can lessen the complications associated with hyperactivity of the neurological system.
Intravenous fluids and other supportive treatments to improve organ perfusion.
Tick protection Once healed, immunity is acquired for life.
Excellent when quickly diagnosed.
Mortality is more likely when the diagnosis is delayed, the disease is very severe, or when using ineffective antibiotics.
There is no direct transmission from dogs to humans, but the presence of infected dogs in a human environment increases their risk of infection.
The disease is found in North America, South America, and Central America. Most of the cases in the United States occur in the Southeastern states.
Cats can be seropositive but do not suffer from the disease.
References Simmons, J. Clinical Veterinary Advisor : Dogs and Cats. Éditions Mosby, Inc. 2007, p. 975-976.