Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is an illness named for the region in which it was first identified. It occurs when a person is infected by the organism known as rickettsia rickettsii. This is a bacterium that can be transmitted to humans when a tick infected with it, bites them and feed on their blood.

How Ticks transmit the illness

Ticks most often lodge themselves in hair, near ankles or around the genitals. Once a tick bites, a small, hard, itchy lump that is surrounded by a red ring develops on the skin. The chances of becoming infected increases the longer an infected tick remains stuck to the skin.
The rickettsia rickettsii bacterium circulates in the fluids of a tick’s body. If the tick is squeezed or crushed while it is being removed, infection can still occur if any of the fluids from the tick come in contact with broken skin, or by touching the eyes after coming into contact with an infected tick.The infection will then spread through the bloodstream to other areas of the body.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever cannot spread from person to person contact, and is usually mild if it is treated quickly. In a few instances, usually in older adults, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be fatal.

Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Initially, the symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever will appear to be similar to those of the common cold, and will include one or more of the following:

  • High fever 102 F (38.9 C) or greater
  • Chills
  • Severe headache
  • Photophobia (Sensitivity to light)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • As Rocky Mountain spotted fever progresses, symptoms may include:
  • General aches and pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness
  • Delirium

What to expect

Three to five days after infection, those infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever will develop a red rash on their wrists and ankles. This rash will then spread to the palms and the soles, and can continue up to the arms and legs then on to the torso. The rash does not occur in all instances of the illness, nor does it’s appearance mean that the illness will be any more, or less severe.


Treatment for Rocky Mountain spotted fever is by antibiotics. Patients are treated for at least 3 days after the fever subsides, and until there is clear improvement. The standard length of treatment is 5 to 10 days.

Tips to prevent Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Rocky Mountain spotted fever primarily occurs in the late spring, and early summer. During these seasons, ticks are most active and people tend to spend more time outdoors. The following precautions should therefore be taken to prevent tick bites:

  • Wear light-colored clothing so that ticks, and other insects can be seen before they bite.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks when hiking, or walking through low bushes.
  • Use insect repellents on skin, boots, and clothing.
  • Conduct a body check upon return from areas where there may be ticks.
  • Check children and pets for ticks after being in potentially tick infested areas.

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