Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Tick on Blanket

Summer is here, which means an increase in certain diseases and illnesses like allergies, food poisoning and hives. There are also a number of life-threatening illnesses to look out for this summer. One of those illnesses is Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Why is Rocky Mountain spotted fever such a huge concern this summer?

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is an illness caused by a bite from a tick infected with a particular bacteria known as Rickettsia rickettsii.

The majority of cases of RMSF occur during the summertime, but cases have been reported in the spring, fall and winter months, as well.

Where Does Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Occur?

In the United States, more than 60% of reported cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever occur in just five states: Tennessee, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.

Cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever have even been reported in Canada and South America.

The tick species that carry RMSF are the American dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick.

What Are the Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

RMSF is difficult to diagnose. Symptoms may not materialize until nearly two weeks after infection.

If you’ve been infected with RMSF, you may notice any or all of the following symptoms (according to the CDC):

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Stomach Cramps

The most tell-tale sign of RMSF is the notorious rash. Typically, the rash appears around 3 days after being infected. It can appear as red splotches or red pin-prick dots. It often appears first on the wrists, forearms, legs and ankles. The rash may eventually spread to the palms or trunk.

Late-stage symptoms of RMSF can include conjunctivitis, joint pain, and severe stomach pain.

Why is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Dangerous?

RMSF poses several health risks.

The infection attacks the cells lining the body’s blood vessels which can lead to hemorrhaging and life-threateningly low blood pressure. If left untreated, the infection can cause kidney damage, brain inflammation, jaundice and liver injury.

The current treatment of choice for RMSF is doxycycline. When treated within 5 days of infection, most individuals recover completely.

How Can You Avoid Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

There is currently no vaccine available for this infection. The best way to prevent infection is by avoiding tick bites.

Ticks live in grassy, wooded areas. They are also found on many animals. If you garden, camp or hike regularly, you’re more likely to come in contact with ticks.

Check yourself for ticks each time you go outside. Check your pets for ticks each day. Treat your clothing and camping gear with anti-parasite creams like permethrin (Nix) to reduce the risk of tick bites while you’re outside.

After going outside, remove all clothing and tumble dry your clothes on high heat. Shower immediately. Check your body carefully for ticks, especially areas that you can’t see. Use a hand-held mirror to check your back or have a family member help you check.

If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately. Grasp the tick firmly with tweezers and remove its entire body by pulling straight out. Pay attention to any signs of illness that follow in the days after you remove the tick from your body. Visit a healthcare provider immediately if you experience a rash or a fever.

If you’re experiencing tick-related illness, Physicians Urgent Care is here to help.

Our four Middle Tennessee Physicians Urgent Care locations are open seven days a week to care for you should you experience symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever:

West Nashville –  On Charlotte Pike, in front of the Nashville West Shopping Center

Brentwood –  Off Old Hickory Blvd, near Firebirds and the Well Coffee Shop

Berry Farms – Located off the Goose Creek Bypass in the Berry Farms Town Center, just down from Publix.

Franklin – On the corner of Route 96 & Carothers Parkway in front of Williamson County Medical Center.