Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is an infection caused by the bite of an infected tick. It affects about 250 to 1,200 people a year in the US and usually occurs from April until October, but it can occur anytime during the year where weather is warm. The mid-Atlantic and southeastern states are most affected. The disease is spread to humans from contact with the tick; it is not spread from one person to another.

What are the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

The following are the most common symptoms of RMSF. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • a non-itchy rash that usually starts on the hands, arms, feet, and legs and occurs seven to 10 days after the bite
  • fever
  • headache
  • decreased appetite
  • chills
  • sore throat
  • stomach ache
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • body aches
  • sensitivity to light

Death has occurred in untreated cases of RMSF.

Symptoms of RMSF may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult a physician for diagnosis.

How is RMSF diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on symptoms and past history of a tick bite. The appearance and character of the rash is important. Skin samples and lab tests are usually done to rule out other conditions and confirm diagnosis.

Treatment for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:

Specific treatment for RMSF will be determined by your physician and may include antibiotics and supportive care.

How can Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever be prevented?

Once a person has RMSF, he/she cannot be re-infected. Some general guidelines for preventing RMSF include:

  • Ticks cannot bite through clothing; dress your child and family in:
    • light-colored clothing
    • long-sleeved shirts tucked into pants
    • socks and closed-toe shoes
    • long pants with legs tucked into socks
  • Check often for ticks on:
    • all parts of the body that bend: behind the knees, between fingers and toes, underarms, and groin.
    • other areas where ticks are commonly found: belly button, in and behind the ears, neck, hairline, and top of the head.
    • areas of pressure points, including:
      • where underwear elastic touches the skin
      • where bands from pants or skirts touch the skin
      • anywhere else where clothing presses on the skin
    • Visually check all other areas of the body and hair, and run fingers gently over skin. Run a fine-toothed comb through your child's hair to check for ticks.
  • Other helpful measures include:
    • Walk on cleared paths and pavement through wooded areas and fields when possible.
    • Shower after all outdoor activities are over for the day. It may take up to four to six hours for ticks to attach firmly to skin. Showering may help remove any loose ticks.
    • Consider using insect repellents safely:
      • Products that contain DEET are tick repellents, but do not kill the tick and are not 100 percent effective. Use a children's insect repellent and check with you child's doctor if your child is less than 1 year of age before using.
      • Treat clothing with a product that contains permethrin, which is known to kill ticks on contact. Do not use permethrin on skin.
    • Check pets for ticks and treat as needed.