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.
Although it was first identified in the Rocky Mountains, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is most commonly found in the southeastern part of the United States. It also occurs in parts of Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America.
Early signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include a severe headache and high fever. A few days later, a rash usually appears on the wrists and ankles. Rocky Mountain spotted fever responds well to prompt treatment with antibiotics.
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:
The red, nonitchy rash associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever typically appears three to five 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.
Some people who are infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever don't ever develop a rash, which makes diagnosis much more difficult.
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 available, take the tick along with you to your doctor's office for laboratory identification.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever may cause a rash of small red spots or blotches that begin on the wrists, palms or soles. The rash often spreads to the arms, legs and torso.
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.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by the organism Rickettsia rickettsii. In the United States, this bacterium most often is spread to humans by bites from the American dog tick or the wood tick, depending on the geographic area.
Factors that may increase your risk of contracting Rocky Mountain spotted fever include:
If an infected tick attaches to your skin, you can contract Rocky Mountain spotted fever when you remove it, as fluid from the tick can enter your body through an opening such as the bite site.
You can reduce your risk of infection by taking steps to prevent exposure to ticks and tick fluids. When removing a tick from your skin:
Rocky Mountain spotted fever damages the lining of your smallest blood vessels, causing the vessels to leak or form clots. This may cause:
You can decrease your chances of contracting Rocky Mountain spotted fever by taking some simple precautions:
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, wash the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Soak the tick in alcohol or flush it down the toilet. Wash your hands thoroughly to make sure any infected tick fluid is completely removed.
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.
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.
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.
You'll likely start by seeing your family doctor. In some cases, you might be referred to a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases.
Preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For Rocky Mountain spotted fever, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor may ask some of the following questions: