Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious bacterial infection transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected tick. The bacteria, Rickettsia rickettsii (R. rickettsii), that causes RMSF can likewise cause serious damage to the brain, heart, and lungs. It's difficult to diagnose as many people are unaware they've received a tick bite. RMSF affects more than 2,000 Americans per year usually between the months of April and September. It may occur, however, anytime during the year when the weather is warm. First identified in the Rocky Mountain states, this infection now occurs throughout the U.S. and most commonly affects those in the southeastern and south-central U.S. This bacterial infection cannot be transmitted from person to person.
What Are The First Signs Of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
Early Rocky Mountain spotted fever symptoms include a severe headache and high fever. A few days after the infected tick transmits the infection to a human, a rash typically appears on the individual’s wrists and ankles. While many individuals become ill within the first week following infection, signs, and symptoms may not appear for up to 14 days following transmission. Initial signs of RMSF might be nonspecific and can mimic those of other illnesses, and may include the following. If you experience these symptoms or you believe you have RMSF, contact our office to schedule a dermatology appointment right away.
- Neurological changes or confusion
- High fever and chills
- Red eyes and light sensitivity
- Muscle aches
- Severe headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and/or fatigue
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Rash
When a person is bitten by an infected tick and becomes infected with RMSF, a red, non-itching rash may appear approximately three to five days following initial signs and symptoms. The rash typically makes its initial appearance on the wrists and ankles and can spread down into the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet as well as up to the arms, legs, and torso. Some individuals infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, however, don’t ever develop a rash, which makes diagnosing the infection a much more difficult process.
Causes Of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Bacteria called Rickettsia rickettsii causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The bacteria is transmitted to humans through the bite of a tick. But, less than one percent of tick bites transmit R. rickettsii bacteria. Rocky Mountain spotted fever transmission occurs from the following three ticks.
- American dog tick. Found in the Eastern part of the U.S.
- Rocky Mountain wood tick. Found in the Rocky Mountain states
- Brown dog tick. Found on domestic dogs throughout the U.S.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Treatment
Specific treatment for Rocky Mountain spotted fever is determined by our dermatologists based on how old the patient is, the patient’s overall health and medical history, how sick they are, the patient’s ability to take specific medications or receive certain treatments, and expected duration of the condition, among additional factors. Your doctor may perform lab tests to diagnose Rocky Mountain spotted fever and prescribe antibiotic treatments until several days after symptoms dissipate.
How To Prevent Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
The best prevention for Rocky Mountain spotted fever is avoiding tick-infested areas. Wear long sleeve shirts and pants if near areas with shrubs, tall grasses and/or woods. Protect the legs by tucking pant legs into socks and wearing closed shoes. Do a visual check of each family member upon returning home. If applicable, check your dog or other pets for ticks.
If you do find a tick, use tweezers to detach it from the skin. Grab the tick by the head or mouthparts as close as possible to where the bite has entered the skin. Pull firmly and steadily away from the skin until the tick disengages. Clean the bite wound with disinfectant and watch for other symptoms. Place the tick in a jar or plastic bag and take it to your dermatologist for examination. Antibiotics aren't generally prescribed unless other symptoms are present.