Man hangs between life and death - because of ticks

Hospital suspects typhus, begins treatment before laboratory results arrive.

Orly Harari,

Hospital
Hospital
iStock

A man in his sixties arrived in Haifa's Rambam Hospital suffering from a rash, fever, and headaches.

The rash appeared around the time of his arrival in the hospital, while the fever and headaches had appeared a few days prior.

The patient's condition deteriorated quickly. He was transferred to the hospital's intensive care unit, where he stayed for several days, hanging between life and death.

Symptoms showed the man suffered typhus. Typhus is one of a few diseases caused by the Rickettsia, which is transferred via ticks. When the staff found out that the patient worked with dogs, the suspicion grew stronger. Though doctors had not yet received the results of the patient's laboratory tests, they decided to treat him as if he suffered from typhus. They began treatment with antibiotics known to target Rickettsia, as well as to provide support for his collapsing bodily systems.

The patient responded well to the treatment, and began to recover a few days later. After two weeks of recovery and observation, the patient was transferred to the regular ward.

Typhus-transferring ticks are usually found in fields with high grasses and shrubs. They are more common in the summer, but can be active at any time of year. Ticks usually jump off plants and latch onto dogs and people walking in fields.

Typhus is more common among dog owners, since ticks can transfer from pet to owner, and the owners tend to walk their dogs in tick-infested areas. Without appropriate treatment, Rickettsia can cause kidney, lung, and liver failure, or even death.

"Pay attention to unusual symptoms after a hike or contact with dogs which may carry ticks," Rambam ICU Director Dr. Yaron Bar-Lavie said. "Symptoms include fever, rash, dizziness, vomiting, weakness or apathy, shortness of breath, and low blood pressure. Without proper treatment, a person's condition can deteriorate quickly - like it did in this case - and it can end tragically."

"If you suspect an infection, go to the hospital immediately."

Rambam doctors also suggested pet owners use a tick-repellent collar for their pets, and to check for and remove ticks after every hike.

"Ticks crawl on the skin, and they like to hide near the neck and genitals," the doctors explained. "Ticks inject into their hosts a chemical which numbs the area, so that the bite is not felt. However, they are easy to identify by touch and by site, since the bits are raised, and gray or black."

"Typhus causes fever and rash in people. The rash may be red or purple, and it may cover the entire body, including the palms of a person's hands and the soles of their feet."


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