What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2019
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Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious tick-borne illness with potentially fatal consequences. First diagnosed in the Rocky Mountain area of Colorado, cases have since been found in warm, wooded or grassy areas from California to New York, with most occurrences in the southeastern United States. Ticks that spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever are infested with Rickettsia rickettsii, a unique type of microorganism categorized loosely as a bacterium. There are many species of ticks that carry this microorganism, the most common being the American dog tick (Dermacentar variablis). Humans usually contract Rocky Mountain spotted fever from visiting highly infested areas, or from pets infested with ticks.

The onset of Rocky Mountain spotted fever causes severe flu-like symptoms, including a high fever that can last several days, headache, muscle ache, and chills. A rash will also be present, likely to develop first along the legs or arms. It often spreads to the palms and soles of the feet, eventually reaching the trunk of the body.


Although Rocky Mountain spotted fever is detected with a blood test, there can be a degree of difficulty in successfully diagnosing it in its earliest stages. Symptoms do not appear for some 10-15 days after being bitten, separating cause from effect. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is also not as common as many other diseases which are more likely to be ruled out first, or wrongly diagnosed as the problem. Antibiotics can cure Rocky Mountain spotted fever if caught in time, but depending on the condition of the patient and time to diagnosis, a hospital stay might be required.

To decrease your chances of contracting Rocky Mountain spotted fever there are precautions you can take. Keep pets free of parasites and maintain lawns and surrounding grasses by keeping them trimmed. When entering wooded or grassy areas for work or recreation, long pants and long sleeved shirts are recommended. Tuck pants into socks and wear high boots. Tuck shirts into pants and wear light colored clothing to spot parasites more easily.

Ticks are known to nestle into the area between the fingers or toes, behind ears, along the neckline and on the top of the head. If wearing shorts, they might also be found behind the knees. Ticks attach to the skin with a puncturing mechanism that makes them hard to remove. If you find a tick attached to you, health experts recommend it be removed immediately. The longer an infected tick stays attached, the higher the likelihood that it will pass the disease.

Health organizations recommend removing a tick with tweezers, grabbing it as close to the mouth -- your skin -- as possible. Apply even, steady pressure and pull it straight out without jerking or twisting. Avoid exerting pressure on the body of the tick, which could empty infected fluids through the mouthparts into the skin.

Do not grab the tick with your hands, try to burn it off with a match, or coat it. After the tick is removed, cleanse the bite with disinfectant and wash the hands. If there is some concern that mouthparts might remain in the skin, see a doctor to have them removed.

Upon removing a tick, save it in a sealed bottle or sealable plastic bag which can be placed in the freezer. Should you later become ill, this could help a doctor diagnose your illness faster. Make sure the tick is stored safely, away from the reach of children.

This article provides general information about Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and is not intended to be taken as medical advice, or used as a tool for diagnosis. If you or anyone you know is feeling ill or believes they may have been bitten by an infected tick or other animal, see a doctor immediately.



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Post 2

@Mykol - Not only is this something that is often difficult to diagnose, but many times a lot of damage has been done before they realize what to do and how to treat it. I knew someone who had severe problems with what they referred to as tick fever.

If you discover that you have been bitten by a tick and you are able to remove it, I would strongly encourage you to save it for testing. It is much better to be safe and know for sure, than to be wondering if that could possibly be the problem.

If you are going to be outside in wooded areas, always wear as much protective clothing as possible, and check yourself right away.

Post 1

I knew someone who had to go through every kind of test you can imagine before being told she had rock mountain spotted fever. This really can be a very serious disease and very scary if you do not know what is wrong. Her symptoms were like having the flu, but never went away.

Even though she lived in an area where this is common, it took a long time before they figured out what was causing her symptoms.

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