What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)?

RMSF is a tickborne disease caused by the bacteria, Rickettsia rickettsii.  tick

How is RMSF spread?

RMSF is spread to humans through the bite of an infected tick. RMSF is more common in North and South America. It is potentially fatal if left untreated.

What are the symptoms of RMSF?

Symptoms usually begin 2-14 days after the bite of an infected tick. Symptoms may vary depending on the person.  They include:

  • Fever
  • Rash (2-5 days after the fever)
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Redness in the eyes

What complications are associated with RMSF?

If left untreated, RMSF can be fatal. An earlier diagnoses can prevent the disease from becoming severe or fatal. RMSF can cause blood clots, damage to the blood vessels, and loss of circulation. In some cases, amputation of fingers, toes, or limbs may be necessary. Neurological problems or damage to the organs may result from severe disease.

How is RMSF diagnosed?

Diagnoses can be difficult, because symptoms may vary person-to-person, and the disease can resemble other diseases. Treatment should be given within the first 5 days to prevent the disease from becoming severe or fatal. Since diagnoses can be complicated, a doctor may look for antibodies in the blood, and they may diagnose based off of symptoms and patient history.

How is RMSF treated?

Treatment is most effective at preventing death if doxycycline is given in the first 5 days of symptoms. Treatment should always be given if RMSF is suspected, before laboratory confirmation. If treatment is given within 5 days of symptoms, fever will usually subside within 24-72 hours. If fever does not subside, the patient may not have RMSF. Severely ill patients may have fever longer after treatment. Other antibiotics are less effective than doxycycline.

How can I prevent RMSF?

Do not take antibiotics to prevent RMSF, as they can prolong the disease. If you are bitten by a tick, watch for symptoms associated with RMSF. Other preventative measures include:

  • Wear long sleeves and pants when participating in outdoor activities
  • Avoid walking through tall grass and bushes
  • Prevent ticks from living in your yard by removing piles of leaves and keeping wood piles in the sun
  • Check you, your children, and pets for ticks after spending time outdoors
  • Remove ticks from your, your children, and pets with tweezers and apply antiseptic after removal

For more information on RMSF, click here.