Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a bacteria disease spread by ticks.  It is transmitted in North and South America by tick bites.  Without immediate antibiotic treatment, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can cause potentially fatal organ damage.

What are the Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Many people experiencing symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever will start to feel ill during the first week after contracting the infection.  However, symptoms may not show for up to two weeks.  Some of the first signs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are not specific to it.  Those symptoms could include;

  • Cold sweat and chills
  • Fever with high temperature
  • General body and muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Restlessness and difficulty sleeping
  • Decrease in appetite

There is a very distinctive rash that is associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  It will typically appear within a few days after the initial symptoms begin. The rash usually first appears on wrists and ankles, and then can potentially spread in both directions to other parts of the body.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Causes

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is caused by a type of bacteria from the group known as “rickettsia”. It is contracted in humans after sustaining bites from ticks which have been infected by the bacteria. The most common types of ticks to spread the illness are:

  • American dog ticks
  • Brown dog ticks
  • Rocky Mountain wood ticks

Although RMSF can occur throughout the United States, it tends to be most common in the following areas:

  • Arkansus
  • North Carolina
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee

RMSF tends to be most prevalent during late spring and summer, since this time of year is when ticks are most active. However, the illness can occur at any time of year, with around 10% of cases taking place between October and March.

How is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Treated?

Because of the severity of the disease and its’ fatal potential, most patients diagnosed with it will require hospitalization.  With the fatality and complications rate being so high, doctors will start treating diagnosed patients even before the test results return.  The rate of fatalities with Rocky Mountain spotted fever is high, making it a significantly dangerous illness that if left untreated could result in a catastrophic outcome for the patient.

If you or anyone you know might have suffered a tick bite, it is important to seek immediate medical attention on an urgent basis.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Prevention

In order to prevent RMSF, you must prevent tick bites wherever possible. Precautions should be taken at any time of year, but extra vigilance is recommended in spring and summer.

Firstly, avoid areas where ticks tend to inhabit; this is usually areas that have tall, thick grass, lots of fallen leaves, and plenty of brush and woodland. When walking or hiking, keep to trail paths where possible and wear long pants, sleeves and footwear which completely covers the feet.

Insect repellent can help to prevent tick bites. Opt for an EPA-registered repellent which contains at least 20% of the following active ingredients:

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Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
December 19, 2017
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