Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a tick-borne bacterial disease that affects the cells in the lining of your blood vessels, making the vessels leak. This can eventually cause serious damage to internal organs, particularly your kidneys.
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 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. If left untreated, however, the disease can cause serious complications and even death.
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:
Rash is distinctive
A few people who are infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever don't ever develop a rash, which makes diagnosis much more difficult.
When to see a doctor
Rash caused by Rocky Mountain spotted fever
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, you may pick up the infection. It's also possible — but unusual — to catch Rocky Mountain spotted fever when blood from an infected tick gets into broken skin or comes in contact with the mucous membrane in your mouth, nose or eyes.
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.
Types of ticks
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. ...
Your risk of contracting Rocky Mountain spotted fever depends on:
Rocky Mountain spotted fever damages the lining of your smallest blood vessels, causing the vessels to leak or form clots. This can harm your:
Preparing for your appointment
You'll likely start by seeing your family doctor. In some cases, you might be referred immediately to a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
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.
Treatments and drugs
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 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 can decrease your chances of contracting Rocky Mountain spotted fever by taking some simple precautions:
Last Updated: 2011-09-10
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