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To date, human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE), the causative agent of which is likely transmitted by ticks in the Ixodes ricinus-Ixodes persulcatus complex, has not been diagnosed with certainty in patients outside the United States. The presence of a closely related vector tick, I. ricinus, as well as the occurrence of similar Ehrlichia spp. of veterinary importance, suggests that this
disease is likely to be present in Europe. The aim of the present study was to compare the prevalence of antibodies against the HGE agent in sera collected from patients in groups at high risk for exposure to I. ricinus with that of a control population. Risk groups consisted of 150 forestry workers and 105 patients with an established diagnosis of
Lyme disease. The control group was 103 healthy blood donors without a history of tick bites. We used a patient isolate of the HGE agent from Minnesota (J. L. Goodman, C. Nelson, B. Vitale, J. E. Madigan, J. S. Dumler, T. J. Kurtti, and U. G. Munderloh, N. Engl. J. Med. 334:209-215, 1996) propagated in HL60 cells as the source of antigen for a specific immunofluorescence assay (IFA). Elevated IFA titers (> or = 1:80) were present in 21 of 150 (14%) serum samples from forestry workers and in 12 of 105 (11.4%) serum samples from
Lyme disease patients, but in only 2 of 103 (1.9%) serum samples from blood donors (P < or = 0.01 for either of the at-risk groups versus blood donors). The results of this study suggest that the HGE agent or a closely related organism exists in southern Germany and that seroconversion to it is common among groups exposed to Ixodes ticks. Final proof that HGE occurs in Germany will require the isolation of the causative agent from patients. HGE should be considered in the differential diagnosis of febrile illnesses in individuals exposed to Ixodes ticks in Europe as well as in North America.