Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a bacterial infection transmitted by tick bites. It is rare, but if untreated, can lead to serious or deadly consequences. The difficulty lies in diagnosis because many people are unaware that they have been bitten by a tick. Three types of ticks transmit the Rickettsia rickettsii bacteria:

  • Dog ticks, usually in the Eastern part of the country,
  • Wood ticks, usually in the Rocky Mountain states, and
  • Lone star ticks, usually on the West coast.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is characterized by fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, headache and muscle pain. A rash may develop, but often not until the first few days of symptoms, and in some cases, no rash is present. If a rash develops, it is characterized by small red spots or blotches on the wrists, ankles, palms or soles of the feet. It spreads up the arms and legs to the trunk. These symptoms take between one and two weeks to appear following a tick bite. The treatment of choice is the antibiotic doxycycline which must be administered quickly, within the first 5 days of symptoms. The blood tests to confirm the diagnosis may take too long to wait for before instituting treatment.

The best way to prevent Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is to avoid tick bites either by avoiding high risk areas, or wearing appropriate clothing. To avoid exposure, wear hats, long sleeves and pants. Tuck pants legs into socks or boots. Also, wearing insect repellent, especially with the ingredient DEET is very helpful. After being outdoors, do a careful visual check of each member of the party upon returning home, including dogs.

If a tick is found adherent to the skin, use tweezers to disengage the tick from the skin. Grab the tick by the head or mouthparts as close as possible to where the mouth parts have entered the skin. Pull firmly and steadily away from the skin until the tick disengages. Clean the bite wound with disinfectant and monitor the bite mark. You can place the tick in a jar or plastic bag and take it to your health care provider for examination.