Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is one of the most common tick-borne diseases in the United States. Since the 1920s, RMSF has been a reportable infectious disease. The prevalence and incidence of the disease has rapidly grown since then and over 6 cases per million were reported in 2010. It is caused by a bacterium called Rickettsia rickettsii which is native to North and South America. In fact, the CDC has reported that over 60% of the cases of RMSF in the US were found to be in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri. The disease is transmitted through a tick bite, however the primary vector that carries R. rickettsii is the American dog tick which is pictured above.
The symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are very similar to those of the flu. The symptoms include fever, headaches, rashes, nausea, loss of appetite, and more. These symptoms are very nonspecific and are associated with the early stages of RMSF. More than 20% of RMSF cases can be fatal if not treated immediately because the disease can rapidly become a serious and life-threatening illness. Before antibiotics were discovered, the disease had a mortality rate of 70% in certain locations. Today, RMSF is easier to treat and the mortality rate has drastically decreased to 0.3% following treatment with doxycycline. Doxycycline is an antibiotic that effectively treats the symptoms of RMSF if it is administered within the first five days of diagnosis.
The bacterium tends to grow in warmer climates which explains its prevalence among many of the Southern States, but Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is rapidly growing among the United States. Although no vaccine has been found, there are many steps that can be taken to prevent RMSF. Now that it’s summer, ticks are more numerous in number, especially in Pennsylvania. Ticks are common in grassy and wooded areas so it is recommended that you always check for ticks after spending a long day hiking, camping or gardening. The CDC also recommends that you use bug spray containing DEET when going out and don’t forget to always check your pets for any ticks they may bring into the house. By doing this, you can minimize your risk for getting RMSF.