Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

By: Natalie Cargin

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a rare disease spread by a tick carrying a virus called Rickettsia Rickettsii. If the tick with the virus bites you, it transmits the disease which causes rashes to form. Without treatment it can cause serious damage to organs, or worse. RMSF is the most common and most deadly rickettsial illness in the United States.


RMSF was first identifyed in the Rocky Mountains, which is why it got its name. It is most commonly found in the Southeastern, and some Northeastern states such as North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri. Although it is mainly found in the US, it can also be found in parts of Canada, Mexico, and South America.
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It is most common to get the disease in spring and summer because that's when the ticks are most active. The ticks, the American Dog Tick, the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, and the Brown Dog Tick, get the virus from the organism Rickettsia Rickettsii. They get R. Rickettsii from squirrels, snowshoe hares, voles, chipmunks, and other small mammals. If an infected tick gets on your skin and feeds on your blood for six to ten hours, you are most likely to get the disease.


Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever damages the lining of the smaller blood vessels, making them leak or form blood clots, which may cause inflammation in the brain, heart, and lungs, kidney failure, and very bad infections or amputation. In very serious cases it can also result in meningitis, heart attack, stroke, tissue damage that causes fingers and toes to fall off, and possibly death.


Many people become sick in the first week after getting bitten, but the symptoms may not show for up to 14 days. Signs of RMSF are; high fever, chills, severe headache, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting, and not being able to sleep. The distinct rash appears a few days after the symptoms begin. It starts on ankles and wrists and spreads to the rest of the body.
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Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of getting the disease are; living in areas where there are many cases, if it is spring or summer, the amount of time you spend in the woods or grassy areas, and if you have a dog or not. People can reduce their risk of getting the disease by limiting their exposure to ticks.


RMSF has been reported since the 1920's. The number of cases has changed a lot in the last decade. It has gone from 2 cases per million people in 2000 to 6 cases per million people in 2010. The all-time high for number of cases reported was 8.4 out of every million people in 2008. The percent of cases that result in death is less than 0.5% and the highest its ever been was 28% in 1944, when treatment wasn't as advanced. The disease was less common when it first was identified, but more deadly. There are now about 500 cases reported a year and the number is going down.
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People can prevent getting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever by wearing long sleeves and pants, using bug repellent, spraying yards with pesticides to get rid of ticks, checking themselves and pets for ticks, and if there is a tick on them or a pet, removing it with tweezers.


Infected people are more likely to not get complications if they are treated within five days of developing symptoms. Doctors test blood samples for any sign of the virus and give medication right away to avoid the disease worsening. Sometimes it's hard to diagnose because the early stages of the symptoms are similar to those of other diseases.


Many medications are used for treating RMSF. The top three are Doxycycline Hyclate, Minocycline, and Doryx. Doxycycline can also be used for treating Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Relapsing Fever. Pregnant people cannot use Doxycycline, so a good substitute for them is Chloramphenicol.


There is a woman at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who put together a little organization. They are trying to eliminate Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever for good. They've been going around doing things to help. They say by working to control the problem, they have developed a better understanding of the disease. Pretty much the only way to eliminate the disease completely is getting rid of the ticks that carry the virus, which is very hard.
People putting tick collars on dogs and treating yards with pesticides.

Things People Can Do To Help

People can do many things to help. If you live in a place where the disease is common, you can tick-proof your yard and house, put tick collars on dogs, and tell the public about the disease to raise awareness.


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