Man’s life saved at Rambam after tick bites lead to deadly infection

The suspected diagnosis was bolstered when the patient told the doctors that he had taken care of a friend’s dog.

Dog at Palmahim Beach  (photo credit: DOV GREENBLAT)
Dog at Palmahim Beach
(photo credit: DOV GREENBLAT)
A man’s life was saved at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center after tick bites from a dog he was caring for infected him with Rickettsia bacteria, which almost killed him.
The man – in his sixties and living in the North – was hospitalized in critical condition.
He had experienced a fever and headaches a few days earlier, with a red rash appearing soon after his hospitalization. His condition quickly worsened and he was moved to intensive care, where he spent days swinging between life and neardeath.
Some ticks can cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever, typhus fever, North Asian tick-borne rickettsiosis and African tickbite fever. In 1999, Rickettsia killed singer Meir Ariel.
According to his symptoms, the team suspected that the cause of the deterioration in the condition of the man was Rickettsia. Other symptoms from the infection can include dizziness, vomiting, weakness, apathy, shortness of breath and low blood pressure.
The suspected diagnosis was bolstered when the patient told the doctors that he had taken care of a friend’s dog. As testing for the bacteria takes time and the man’s condition was worsening, it was decided to start antibiotic treatment before the diagnosis was confirmed. After two weeks of treatment and supervision in Rambam’s intensive care unit, he was moved to a regular ward.
Ticks are found mainly in the fields, in areas with tall grass and other vegetation. They are more prevalent during the summer, but in Israel, they are active all year round. The ticks leap from the plants to dogs and people walking in fields.
The disease is more common among dog owners because they walk with their dogs in areas where the ticks are present or because ticks on the dog inevitably are passed on. Without appropriate intervention, the disease can cause the failure of many bodily systems, including kidneys, lungs and liver – and may even be fatal.
“Pay attention to unusual symptoms after trips or contact with dogs that may carry the tick,” explained Dr. Yaron Bar-Lavie, head of the respiratory intensive care unit at Rambam who directed the man’s treatment.
“Without proper treatment, the situation could deteriorate rapidly, as happened in this case, and end in disaster. We warn that in case of fear of infection, we must evacuate quickly to the hospital,” he said.
“It is recommended to put on a collar against ticks for dogs walking in the fields, and to check the dog afterward for the presence of ticks and remove them.”