People who love the outdoors are most vulnerable to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial infection which can pass to humans via a tick bite through the skin. This potentially fatal illness was named after the Rocky Mountains where the disease was first traced, although it can be found all over the country.
What happens is this: an infected tick climbs tall grass, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to pounce on and then once it has you, it latches onto your skin and slurps up some blood. Its bodily fluids are what carry the bacteria which can pass into your bloodstream.
You cannot really catch Rocky Mountain spotted fever via human to human contact. If you are lucky, you can catch the illness quickly so you experience nothing but mild symptoms. However, if left undiagnosed, it has the potentially to be really serious, even causing death in certain vulnerable individuals.
Signs and Symptoms to Watch for
Anywhere from two days to two weeks after being bitten by an infected tick, you could develop a whole host of symptoms like a high fever, headaches, vomiting, fatigue, chills, body aches, red spots, no appetite and nausea. A sore throat, trouble sleeping and stomach pain may also occur.
And if left unchecked for too long, your symptoms could include hallucinations, coughing and a trance-like state.
The rash of red blotches will likely appear around the third or fourth day of your fever and can spread almost anywhere. The most obvious sign is the telltale rash but there are a small percentage of people who never exhibit the red spots so their diagnosis and treatment could be delayed.
Ticks are the primary carriers of an organism called rickettsia rickettsii which causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Blood being their primary food source, ticks will latch themselves onto you to get their fill of blood. You may not always feel them, but they can produce a tiny hard spot which produces an itchy red halo around the site.
There are several types of ticks which can carry the Rocky Mountain spotted fever infection and they different depending on the area of the country you are from. For instance, in the southern states as well as South America, the brown dog tick or the lone star tick are responsible whereas in the eastern states, it is the American dog tick. In the west, it is the wood tick and other areas it could be the hard tick.
Treatment for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
The first course of treatment involves the careful removal of the tick. You must be very careful removing it with tweezers as you do not want to crush it and spread the infection. In fact, once removed, save it in a plastic container so that it can be tested when you definitely start displaying symptoms. The best course of action is to get treatment within five days of exhibiting symptoms, typically with antibiotic treatment.
Prevention of course is the best medicine when it comes to Rocky Mountain spotted fever. As the ticks enjoy warm weather, you should always tuck in your pants into boots when you are in the country wading through tall grasses or forested areas. In addition, you insect repellant with DEET to repel the ticks and always inspect yourself once you are safely out of the wooded area. Have someone else look for ticks as well on your body to ensure that nothing was missed.
Image: Surian Soosay/Flickr