If you're like me, your knowledge of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is probably limited to the fact that it's a tick-borne illness. Although this is true, there's much more to RMSF than just being a tick-borne disease. In fact, many people who contract RMSF don't even realize they have been bitten by a tick and in some cases don't remember being bit at all! This can lead to dangerous consequences when symptoms arise days or weeks after initial exposure. It is important for everyone to know about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever so that they can take steps toward prevention and early detection if symptoms appear.
In this blog post we will discuss what exactly Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is, how to prevent it, what its symptoms are, and other important information for anyone who lives in or travels to an area where RMSF is prevalent.
First let's begin with the basics about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
What exactly is it Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a serious, sometimes deadly bacterial disease that affects humans and animals throughout the United States. It can also be found in parts of South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia. There are approximately 800 - 1200 cases reported each year in the U.S., however this number may not fully reflect the amount of people who actually get RMSF since many milder cases often go unreported . Therefore, it's likely that the number of people who get RMSF each year is much higher than reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that RMSF occurs in 5-15 people per every 1 million population in endemic areas (areas where the disease is found).
RMSF caused by R. rickettsii bacteria is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick, usually a wood tick or dog tick (also known as a brown dog tick). It has been found that people are more likely to come into contact with ticks when spending time outdoors . This means anyone who spends time in the woods, camping, gardening etc. should be aware of how to properly protect themselves from getting bitten by a tick. We'll talk more about this later on.
RMSF can affect many different animals such as horses and dogs (canine vector-borne disease) however it is not known if these animals develop the same symptoms we do. Although they may carry the bacteria without any noticeable symptoms, they may still transmit R. rickettsii to humans and other animals through a bite or contaminated saliva . If you live in an area where the disease is prevalent, make sure to take extra precautions with your pets by keeping them on tick preventative medicine and checking them daily for ticks.
Another important thing to note about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is that it can be deadly if not detected and treated correctly! This can be especially true in children which is why it's so important for parents to educate themselves on the symptoms of this terrible bacterial disease. In case you didn't know, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever has been found in patients who have been bitten by ticks but never showed any symptoms associated with RMSF until weeks later when the disease suddenly presents itself . This makes it very important to be proactive about your health and seek early detection if you are, or think that you could possibly be, exposed to ticks.
If left untreated, RMSF can cause damage or failure of multiple organs including the kidneys, spleen, lungs and liver. This makes early detection even more important in order for fast treatment. Unfortunately, people with RMSF often mistake their symptoms for common illnesses such as the flu which leads to delayed diagnosis and extremely serious complications. People who do not receive early diagnosis and treatment have a 30-60% chance of dying.
Signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
usually appear within 1-2 weeks after a person has been bitten by an infected tick. If you live in, or have traveled to, an area where ticks are prevalent make sure to read over and familiarize yourself with the following symptoms.
The first symptom that usually appears shortly after exposure is:
· High fever (103° F - 105° F) for 3-5 days accompanied by: Chills Headache Muscle aches Backache Fatigue Loss of appetite Nausea and/or vomiting
Next come these two additional symptoms which are sometimes overlooked when diagnosing RMSF because they are thought to be flu-like symptoms:
· A rash on wrists, ankles, palms of hands or soles of feet about 1-4 days after the fever begins. This can be followed by:
· A pink or red, spotty rash on trunk, thighs, arms and/or face which may blister and spread to other body parts These spots are usually about 1 to 4 centimeters in size but they can grow up to 10cm in diameter. The rash is often most intense around the wrists, ankles, palms of hands or soles of feet . Sometimes it will also appear between your fingers and toes as well as under your nails.
How is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever diagnosed and treated?
As we mentioned earlier, RMSF is diagnosed through blood tests . It's important to remember the spotting rash that accompanies this disease can mimic other diseases such as meningococcal septicemia, chickenpox and many others. This makes it very important for patients with possible exposure to ticks or a spotted fever type illness (RMSF) get tested early on so proper treatment can begin before complications arise.
If caught in time and treated properly, chances of survival are high however, if contracted by an unborn fetus or newborn child there may be severe consequences. This is why it's so important for women who have been exposed and experience symptoms of RMSF within two weeks after exposure to get tested and treated right away.
Prevention of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
So now that we've learned a little bit about what RMSF is and how it's transmitted (by tick bites), let's talk about prevention and some steps we can all take to keep ourselves safe from this terrible illness:
A way to stay protected against Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is by applying an insect repellent containing 20% or more DEET onto exposed skin and clothing when going outdoors (more information on how long DEET lasts once applied). Remember the more DEET you apply, the better protected you will be! If possible, stay on trails and avoid bushy and wooded areas (this is where ticks like to hang out). Use EPA-approved repellents. Repellents with permethrin can be applied to clothing, shoes , camping gear etc., but not directly onto the skin. It's important to remember that these sprays only work when they are wet - so if you will be outdoors in a tick-prone area for an extended period of time, it may be a good idea to apply some DEET on your clothes before getting dressed .
If you are spending time outdoors in an area where ticks are prevalent it is very important to check yourself for ticks regularly! You can do this using a hand held or full-length mirror so that you can see all the places you can't normally see. It's best to check yourself shortly after coming indoors (before taking a shower or going to bed), since this is when most people will find ticks on their body. Here are some tips for checking your body:
What To Do if You're Exposed To It (symptoms, diagnosis, treatment)
It's important that you don't touch the tick with your bare hands, instead use tweezers or another tool that won't crush the tick when removing it. If you do happen to crush the tick when trying to remove it, there is no need to worry because crushed ticks cannot transmit disease . After removing the tick, disinfect the bite site and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. These techniques are not proven to work and may cause the tick to burrow in deeper, increasing your risk of infection.
If you find a tick on your body, remove it IMMEDIATELY! This can be done by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible with tweezers , then pulling upwards with steady pressure. Try not to twist or jerk because this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin resulting in an infection . If removal is difficult, seek medical attention. It is important not to "squash" ticks when removing them because crushed ticks cannot transmit disease . After removing the tick, disinfect bite site and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. If the tick is found attached to a dog or cat, contact your veterinarian .
There are many ways you can protect yourself against ticks, but it's always important to remember that no repellent is 100% effective! To have the best chance of avoiding exposure to ticks, stay on trails whenever possible , avoid bushy and wooded areas , treat clothes with permethrin insecticide , wear long pants and tuck pants into boots/socks, use EPA-approved repellents containing DEET , routinely check your body for ticks after being outdoors, completely remove any tick you find attached to your skin within 24 hours of attachment, disinfect bite site if bitten by a tick. If you live in an area where there is a high risk of exposure to ticks, check your yard for standing water and brush that may be thick enough for ticks to hide in. You can also contact local Vector Control agencies for information on controlling tick populations within your area.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated quickly. It's important to know the symptoms and prevention methods so you can protect yourself, your family, and friends from this disease. We hope our blog post has helped give you some more insight on how to stay safe! You should also read up on these 6 tips for preventing RMSF before heading out into the wilderness.
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