What is Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a bacterial infection transmitted by a tick. Without prompt treatment, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can cause serious damage to internal organs, such as your kidneys and heart.
How common is Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
Although many people become ill within the first week after infection, signs and symptoms may not appear for up to 14 days. Initial signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever often are nonspecific and can mimic those of other illnesses:
- High fever
- Severe headache
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Restlessness and insomnia
The red, nonitchy rash associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever typically appears a few days after the initial signs and symptoms begin. The rash usually makes its first appearance on your wrists and ankles, and can spread in both directions — down into the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, and up your arms and legs to your torso. A few people who are infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever don’t ever develop a rash, which makes diagnosis much more difficult.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
See your doctor if you develop a rash or become sick after a tick bite. Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other infectious diseases carried by ticks can progress rapidly and may be life-threatening. If possible, take the tick along with you to your doctor’s office for laboratory testing.
What causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by infection with the organism Rickettsia rickettsii. Ticks carrying R. rickettsii are the most common source of infection. If an infected tick attaches itself to your skin and feeds on your blood for six to 10 hours, you may pick up the infection. But, you may never see the tick on you.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever primarily occurs when ticks are most active and during warm weather when people tend to spend more time outdoors. Rocky Mountain spotted fever cannot be spread from person to person.
What increases my risk for Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
There are many risk factors for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, such as:
- Living in an area where the disease is common
- The time of year — infections are more common in the spring and early summer
- How much time you spend in grassy or wooded areas
- Whether or not you have a dog or spend time with dogs
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is Rocky Mountain spotted fever diagnosed?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be difficult to diagnose because the early signs and symptoms are similar to those caused by many other diseases.
Laboratory tests can check a blood sample, rash specimen or the tick itself for evidence of the organism that causes the infection. Because early treatment with antibiotics is so important, doctors don’t wait for these test results before starting treatment if Rocky Mountain fever is strongly suspected.
How is Rocky Mountain spotted fever treated?
People who develop Rocky Mountain spotted fever are much more likely to avoid complications if treated within five days of developing symptoms. That’s why your doctor will probably have you begin antibiotic therapy before receiving conclusive test results.
Doxycycline (Monodox, Vibramycin, others) is the most effective treatment for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but it’s not a good choice if you’re pregnant. In that case, your doctor may prescribe chloramphenicol as an alternative.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Rocky Mountain spotted fever:
- Wear long pants and sleeves. When walking in wooded or grassy areas, wear shoes, long pants tucked into socks and long-sleeved shirts. Try to stick to trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass.
- Use insect repellents. Products containing DEET (Off! Deep Woods, Repel) often repel ticks. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label. Clothing that has permethrin impregnated into the fabric is toxic to ticks and also may be helpful in decreasing tick contact when outdoors.
- Do your best to tick-proof your yard. Clear brush and leaves where ticks live. Keep woodpiles in sunny areas.
- Check yourself and your pets for ticks. Do this after being in wooded or grassy areas. Some ticks are no bigger than the head of a pin, so you may not discover them unless you are very careful.
- Remove a tick with tweezers. Gently grasp the tick near its head or mouth. Don’t squeeze or crush the tick, but pull carefully and steadily. Once you have the entire tick removed, apply antiseptic to the bite area. Though there are many purportedly effective methods for helping to remove a tick, such as petroleum jelly, alcohol or even applying a hot match to the tick’s body, none is a good method for tick removal.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rocky-mountain-spotted-fever/basics/definition/con-20032780. Accessed 6 Feb 2017
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever(RMSF). https://www.cdc.gov/rmsf/. Accessed 6 Feb 2017
Review Date: July 18, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019