Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks. It is relatively rare, but can cause serious damage to the heart, lungs and brain. The difficulty lies in diagnosis because many people are unaware that they’ve 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 a rash that begins as 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 of the body. These symptoms take between one and two weeks to appear following a tick bite. The rash is often accompanied by fever, chills, muscle ache, red eyes, light sensitivity, excessive thirst, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and/or fatigue. While there are lab tests your doctor can use to diagnose the disease, they take time to complete, so you may be placed on a course of antibiotic treatment right away.
The best way to prevent Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is to avoid tick-infested areas. If you spend any time in areas with woods, tall grasses or shrubs, wear long sleeves and pants. Tuck pants legs into socks. Wear closed shoes, not sandals. Do a visual check of each member of your family upon returning home. And don’t forget to check your dog for ticks (if applicable).
If you do find a tick, don't panic. Use tweezers to disengage the tick from the skin. Grab the tick by the head or mouthparts as close as possible to where the bite has 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 for other symptoms. You can place the tick in a jar or plastic bag and take it to your dermatologist for examination. Because less than one percent of tick bites transmit this bacteria, antibiotics are not generally prescribed unless there are other symptoms present.