Microbiology Case Study: A 70 Year Old with Fevers, Rigors, and Dizziness

Case Description

A 70 year old female arrived in the hospital with chief complaints of 6 days of fever, rigors, weakness, headache, and dizziness; she has a history of asthma, type 2 diabetes, supraventricular tachycardia and exercise-induced ventricular tachycardia. The patient was also seen 5 days before the current visit for abdominal pain, nausea, and fever. The abdominal pain has gone, but she has had a loss of appetite. She admitted that she sleeps with her dog in bed during that visit. No scleral icterus, rash, cough, urinary tract burning, or neck stiffness was reported on any visits.

CT scan, CBC with differential, BMP, liver function panel, Coag, blood culture, and blood parasite tests were ordered. On the CBC, the cells below were flagged for review (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A Cellavision capture of morulae inside a neutrophil.

Discussion

The round light purple dots pointed by the arrow in Figure 1 are morula indicative of Anaplasma phagocytophilum, formally named “human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA)”. Historically, Ehrlichia phagocytophila and Ehrlichia equi were recognized separately (Sexton & McClain, 2022). HGA is a tick-borne illness more commonly found in the northeast U.S., and the case number has continuously increased in recent years (Centers of, 2022). The tick bite is not painful, and the first symptom usually shows after about a week from the bite. Early diagnosis can be hard at the initial stage since laboratory serology tests often give negative results for the antibodies. It is essential to carefully review the clinical signs and symptoms, travel history, outdoor activity, and animal contacts (Centers of, 2022). PCR is the most sensitive and specific method of diagnosis. Blood smears can be made to confirm the parasite morphology, although patients can have leukopenia leading to decreased sensitivity.

Lab results showed critical hyponatremia (121 mmol/L) and thrombocytopenia (33 K/uL) in this case. The patient was admitted to the floor and prescribed 10 days of doxycycline.

Extreme hyponatremia related to anaplasmosis is not common, and the causing mechanism is unclear; however, all the reported cases fit the description of SIADH – syndrome of inappropriate secretion of antidiuretic hormone (Ladzinski et al., 2021).

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, August 15). Epidemiology and statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/anaplasmosis/stats/index.html
  2. Ladzinski, A. T., Baker, M., Dunning, K., & Patel, P. P. (2021). Human granulocytic anaplasmosis presenting as subacute abdominal pain and hyponatremia. IDCases, 25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.idcr.2021.e01183
  3. Sexton, D. J., & McClain, M. T. (2022, March 21). Human ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. UpToDate. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/human-ehrlichiosis-and-anaplasmosis

-Sherry Xu is a Masters Student in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine.

-Christi Wojewoda, MD, is the Director of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Vermont Medical Center and an Associate Professor at the University of Vermont.

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