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Relapsing fever bacterium (gray) on red blood cells

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Tom Schwan, Robert Fischer and Anita Mora, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

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Relapsing fever bacterium on red blood cells 

The long, spiral-shaped bacterium (gray) in this image causes relapsing fever, a disease characterized by recurring high fevers, muscle aches and nausea. The relapses result from the bacterium's unusual ability to change the molecules on its outer surface, allowing it to dodge the human immune system. The disease is transmitted through the bite of a tick (not the same species that transmits Lyme disease) and is found in parts of the Americas, the Mediterranean, central Asia and Africa.

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This page last reviewed on July 28, 2016