Tick-Borne Illnesses

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

What is this Disease?

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a potentially fatal infectious disease that is caused by Rickettsia rickettsii. It affects the cells in the lining of your blood vessels, which causes them to leak. This disease is transmitted to humans or animals by a tick bite and initial symptoms usually begin to appear 2 to 14 days after being bitten.The initial symptoms may include: fever, rash, headache, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle pain, lack of appetite, and conjunctival injection (red eyes). This disease can be fatal depending on the severity and how quickly it is diagnosed and treated.

How is this Disease Diagnosed?

Diagnosing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is extremely difficult because initial symptoms may resemble more common infections. There is no test that can give a physician a conclusive confirmation on this disease so many physicians base their diagnosis on clinical suspicion. Laboratory test, such as a blood test, often don't give confirmation to the Rickettsia rickettsii bacterium in the blood unless it is in the advanced stage of the disease. Diagnostic tests for the disease often appear negative for the first 7 to 10 days because the body has not created enough antibodies to fight the invader yet. For these reasons, if the physician has the slightest suspicion that the patient has this disease, treatments will begin as soon as possible.

What is the Course of the Disease?

This disease is initiated by a bite from a tick infected with the Rickettsia rickettii bacterium. Symptoms often appear 2 to 14 days after the bite and progressively worsen if left untreated. As the bacteria multiplies in the blood there becomes a higher risk of death and symptoms are prevalent.

How is it Treated?

Since this disease is bacterial it can be treat with an antibiotic. Most cases are treated with doxycycline and is started within the first 5 days of symptoms. Usually fever lowers after the first 24 to72 hours of the antibiotic. However, in severe cases, patients may be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids and other antibiotics. If treatment is not initiated within the first few days of symptoms; serious damage to vital internal organs, loss of circulation to extremities, neurological disorders, and death may occur.

Who is at Risk?

Humans and animals are susceptible to getting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. There is no way to prevent this disease except to stay away from extremely grassy areas. This disease is commonly found in the southeaster part of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America. There are over 1000 cases reported a year and 3% of those cases will ultimately end in death.