Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a tickborne disease spread through the bite of ticks infected with the Rickettsia rickettsii bacteria. It is the most serious tickborne disease in the United States. RMSF is a seasonal disease with most cases reported between the months of April and September. RMSF can be deadly to humans if not treated early and with the correct antibiotic treatment.

How Is RMSF Transmitted?

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is spread by several different species of ticks in the United States. It is most commonly spread through 3 major species: the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). Although the disease was first identified in the Rocky Mountains (hence the name), it is most commonly found in the southeastern part of the United States.

What Are The Symptoms of RMSF?

The early signs and symptoms of RMSF are vague, usually just a fever and headache, making early diagnosis and appropriate treatment difficult. This disease can progress very rapidly, however, to a serious and life-threatening illness. The most common symptom of RMSF is a rash which usually develops anywhere from 2 to 4 days after the onset of fever. While the look of the rash can vary depending on the progression of the illness, the most common version looks like pinpoint red dots. Almost all patients with RMSF develop this rash. It is most often found on the ankles and wrists and then spreads to the trunk, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet.

Other symptoms of RMSF include: nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, muscle pain, and lack of appetite. RMSF isn’t recurrent unless you are reinfected with another tick bite. It doesn’t result in chronic or persistent infections. In rare cases, some people who recover from RMSF, however, are left with permanent damage including amputation of arms, legs, fingers, or toes due to damaged blood vessels; hearing loss; paralysis; and mental disability.

How Is RMSF Treated?

RMSF can be life-threatening if left undiagnosed and untreated. Early treatment can prevent death and severe illness. Doxycycline is the recommended antibiotic for adults and children diagnosed with RMSF per the CDC.

How Can RMSF Be Prevented?

There is no vaccine to prevent RMSF. The best way to prevent it is to prevent tick bites, prevent ticks on your pets, and prevent ticks in your yard. Familiarize yourself with where to expect ticks and use precautions when frequenting these areas. Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas and also on animals. Spending any time outdoors camping, gardening, or hunting can expose you to ticks. Ticks can be prevented by:

  • Treating clothing and gear with products containing permethrin. Permethrin can be used on clothing, boots, and camping gear and will remain even after several washings.
  • Use EPA registered insect repellents. These repellents should contain either DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or 2-undecanone.
  • Check your clothing for ticks before coming indoors and remove them. Tumble dry your clothes on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks on dry clothing. If clothing needs to be washed, use hot water and then high heat drying.
  • Shower as soon as possible after coming in from outdoors – preferably within 2 hours. Showering helps wash off any unattached ticks and gives you the opportunity to do a full body check, as well.
  • Check your body for ticks after being outdoors. Check yourself from head to toe, using a mirror to view all parts of your body. Be sure to check under your arms, in and around your ears, inside your belly button, on the backs of your knees, in and around your hair, between your legs, and around your waist.
  • If you find a tick, remove it immediately by grabbing it with tweezers as close to your skin as possible and pulling it straight out.
  • Clear out your yard. Regularly remove leaf litter from your yard and clear tall grasses and brush around your home. Put wood chips or gravel between your lawn and any wooded areas. Keep any play equipment away from shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation.
  • Remove any plants that attract deer or put up physical barriers to keep them from coming into your yard.
  • Use tick preventatives on your pets to keep them from bringing ticks into your home.
  • Consider chemical treatment from a professional.

If you suspect you have a tick problem, contact a professional pest control company who can provide you with a thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment and prevention plan.