Is it the cause of your rash?
You just got back from enjoying a camping trip and notice that you feel tired, your head is throbbing and you feel feverish. You decide to go to bed early hoping that you’ll feel better in the morning. However, when you wake up, you realize that you have a rash on your ankles and wrists. What’s going on? Is it something serious? Should you see a doctor?
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was first discovered in the Rocky Mountains, but can actually be found most often in the southeastern part of the US. It can also be found in Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America. It’s an infection that is caused by bacteria, Rickettsia rickettsia, and is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of a tick. Therefore, infections are more likely to occur during warm weather months when ticks are more active and more people spend time outside.
Symptoms usually appear within a week of being infected. The first symptoms are a severe headache and high fever. Other symptoms include chills, muscle aches, nausea/vomiting, confusion and neurological changes. The most common symptom people associate with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a non-itchy, red rash that appears on the wrists and ankles about three to five days after the other symptoms start. The rash will spread to your hands and feet, as well as your arms, legs and torso. It’s important to note that some people are infected but never develop a rash.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is treated by the antibiotic doxycycline. However, if you’re pregnant, your doctor will most likely prescribe chloramphenicol because you shouldn’t take doxycycline since it can be harmful to your unborn child. It’s essential to seek treatment within the first five days of noticing symptoms in order to prevent any complications.
Complications from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be quite serious. The infection destroys the linings of your smallest blood vessels, or capillaries. This damage causes the capillaries to either leak or form clots. When this occurs throughout your body, it results in significant issues. If it occurs in your brain, you end up with inflammation in the area (encephalitis), which is incredibly dangerous. If it the inflammation happens in your heart, lungs or kidneys, these systems can go into failure. Also, since capillaries are present in your fingers and toes, you can develop gangrene and they will need to be amputated. If Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever isn’t treated, then it results in death almost 80% of the time.
The best thing to do to decrease the likelihood of contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is to cover your skin so that nothing is exposed by wearing long-sleeves and pants that are tucked into either your socks or boots. Wear light-colored clothing in order to be able to spot ticks and brush them off. Use insect repellant that specifically states it is good protection against ticks (do NOT use any products containing DEET on children). Be sure to treat your pets with flea/tick repellants as recommended by your veterinarian. This is because not only can animals be exposed, but they can carry ticks into your house and put you at risk. If you have been outside in areas where ticks are a concern, promptly check yourself and others for ticks once you have left that area. Wash all clothing in warm/hot water or put in the dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes. Also, tick proof your yard by removing any brush or leaves where ticks might live and keep woodpiles in sunny areas.
If you notice a tick on your body, you should remove it gently. If you have access to tweezers, flip the tick onto its back and grasp firmly with the tweezers (small curved ones work best) and apply gentle pulling until tick comes free. Don’t twist/turn while grasping with the tweezers as this can detach the body of the tick from its head/mouth (if this happens, you need to have the rest removed by a doctor—the part that is still imbedded is the piece that is most likely to transmit any diseases). If you don’t have access to tweezers, use your fingers to gently rotate the tick’s body clockwise or counterclockwise for a few minutes. This will irritate the tick enough that it will let go of your skin. You can use tape to remove it from your body. Another option if you don’t have tweezers is to take liquid soap, put it on a cotton ball and place it over the tick for 15-20 seconds. The tick will release from your skin and get caught up in the cotton ball. For any of these solutions, make sure to wear gloves (if possible) and thoroughly wash your hands.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever should be taken seriously. Do you what you can to prevent being exposed. If you have any symptoms, make sure to get immediate treatment in order to prevent any complications. By doing this, you’ll be prepared and aware of what you need to do to prevent an infection or fully recover from one. If you have any questions or concerns about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Center for Disease Control’s Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever page at https://www.cdc.gov/rmsf/index.html