Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, commonly abbreviated as RMSF, is an infectious disease carried by various ticks, which bite a person and infect them with Rickettsia group bacteria.
About 20,000 cases occur in the US each year, mainly in the spring and summer months when people spend more time outdoors in the wild. Contrary to the name, RMSF is pretty rare but can be fatal if it is not diagnosed and treated promptly. A blood test can determine whether or a person has it, and the correct treatment started.
The sources of infection
The sources of tick-borne infection are:
* RMSF tick
* American Dog tick
* Brown Dog tick
It can also be spread via feces from an infected animal or person coming into contact with an open wound, or eating food contaminated with the feces of an infected person or animal. For this reason, practicing good bathroom hygiene, such as always washing hands well, and food hygiene, including keeping food covered so no insects can get at it, is key. If no running water is available, hand sanitizer is better than nothing.
Where can you contract RMSF?
The name RMSF can be misleading because it does not just occur in the Rocky Mountain region, but all over North and South America. It was first identified in Idaho in 1896 and in the Rocky Mountain region generally, has spread over the years to a wider and wider area and has been reported in a majority of the states in the US.
What are the symptoms of RMSF?
Symptoms to watch out for include:
* Muscle ache
* The distinctive rash that gives it its name – it used to be referred to as ‘black measles’
* The tick bite site might look black or encrusted.
The trouble is that most people are not even aware that they have been bitten by a tick until they start to experience symptoms. The rash takes several days to develop, so this means a delay in seeking treatment. It is usually treated with antibiotics. If the case progresses untreated, symptoms can become increasingly severe, and include:
* Pain in the abdomen, joints, or muscles
* Flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, aches, and pains
* Loss of appetite
* Rashes, spots, red or black
Other reported symptoms include:
* Red eyes
* Sensitivity to light
* Painful headache
* A rash on the palms of the hands and/or soles of the feet
Treatments for RMSF
The first treatment for RMSF is antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the illness. The most commonly used is doxycycline, usually for 7 to 14 days.
If the disease progresses, patients with severe infections may require hospitalization due to blood clotting disorders, low sodium/electrolytes that can cause heart issues and elevated liver enzymes. In some cases, the patient may experience respiratory or neurological symptoms or kidney problems.
At risk patients
In general, the prognosis for RMSF can be good. However, it depends on how soon it is diagnosed. Those most at risk include:
* elderly patients
* patients with the blood disorder G6PD deficiency which causes hemolysis.
Long-term health implications
Patients who had a particularly severe infection requiring prolonged hospitalization may have long-term health problems because the bacteria infects the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels throughout the body. The damage that occurs in the blood vessels causes a disease known as vasculitis.
Vasculitis can result in internal bleeding or clotting in the brain, vital organs, or extremities, leading to loss of circulation and death of the tissue, or death of the patient. The tissue death may result in amputations.
Most patients have a good outcome, however, and recover several days to months after infection.
The most sensible way to avoid RMSF is to use insect repellent and be vigilant about ticks on yourself or your pets.