Transmitted to humans by a tick bite, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is potentially serious bacterial infection. Although named after the area where the disease was first identified, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can occur anywhere that has a family of ticks known as Ixodid (hard) ticks. They live in wooded areas and are more prevalent in late spring and early summer. An estimated 250 to 2,000 cases per year occur in the United States.
How It Develops
When an infected tick attaches to your skin, Rocky Mountain spotted fever enters your bloodstream and can travel to other parts of the body. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by the Rickettsia rickettsii bacterium. You can develop Rocky Mountain spotted fever from either a tick bite or contact with the bacteria through the fluid of an infected tick. Person to person contact will not spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
In most cases, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a mild illness, as long as you receive treatment right away. Typically, symptoms appear within a week of a tick bite, but they can take up to two weeks to develop. The disease can lead to complications or even death, especially in older adults, so seek treatment immediately.
Initial signs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Fever over 102 F
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting
As Rocky Mountain spotted fever progresses patients may experience:
- Blotchy or spotted red rash on the wrists, ankles or soles
- Extensive aches and pains
To confirm Rocky Mountain spotted fever the doctor will assess your symptoms, conduct a physical exam and screen for the organism that causes the disease. If you show symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, your doctor may begin treatment even before verifying the disease to minimize the effects of the illness.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever responds to antibiotic therapy, usually doxycycline, for seven to ten days. If you are pregnant, chloramphenicol is a safer alternative.
When spending time outdoors, take these precautions to minimize the risk of Rocky Mountain spotted fever:
- Wear long sleeves and long pants
- Apply insect repellant
- Check for ticks, on family members and pets
- Use care when removing a tick