Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

  • Overview

    Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is an infection caused by a type of bacteria carried by ticks. Despite its name, cases of RMSF have been reported throughout the entire United States, not just in one area.

    • Most cases occur in children.
    • Peak time to catch it is between April to September.
    • You can help prevent it by helping your child avoid tick bites, including proper dress and insect repellent.
    • Treatment usually includes antibiotics.
    • Complications are rare, but could be serious.
    • Once your child has the infection, she cannot get it again.

    »
    Infectious Diseases
    333 Longwood Avenue
    5th floor
    Boston MA 02115
     617-355-6832
     fax: 617-730-0911


  • In-Depth

    What is Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
    Rocky Mountain Spotted fever (RMSF) is an infection caused by a type of bacteria carried by ticks. Despite its name, cases of RMSF have been reported throughout the United States.

    What causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
    You can catch RMSF by being bitten by an infected tick. It's not spread from one person to another, not just in one area.

    Is Rocky Mountain spotted fever common?
    It affects about 250 to 1,200 people a year in the United States and usually occurs from April until September, but it can occur anytime during the year where weather is warm. The mid-Atlantic and southeastern states are most affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the people most at risk include:

    • children 15 and under, particularly children between 5 and 9 years old
    • children who is frequently around dogs
    • children who lives near wooded areas or areas with high grass

    What are the symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
    While symptoms may vary child-to-child, the most common include:

    • a non-itchy rash that usually starts on the hands, arms, feet, and legs and occurs seven to 10 days after the bite
    • fever
    • headache
    • decreased appetite
    • chills
    • sore throat
    • stomach ache
    • nausea or vomiting
    • diarrhea
    • body aches
    • sensitivity to light

    Can you prevent Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
    To prevent your child from getting RMSF to begin with, be sure to walk on cleared paths and pavement through wooded areas and fields when possible. Also, have your child follow these steps when spending time outdoors:

    • Dress right
      • light-colored clothing
      • long-sleeved shirts tucked into pants
      • socks and closed-toe shoes
      • long pants with legs tucked into socks
    • Look for ticks
      • any parts of the body that bend (behind the knees, between fingers and toes, underarms and groin)
      • belly button, in and behind the ears, neck, hairline and top of the head
      • anywhere else where clothing presses on the skin (such as the band on pants or underwear)
      • hair (run a fine-toothed comb through your child's hair)
    • Shower after all outdoor activities
      • it may take up to four to six hours for ticks to attach firmly to skin; showering may help remove loose ticks
    • Use insect repellents
      • DEET is a tick repellent, but doesn't kill the tick and is not 100 percent effective.
      • use a children's insect repellent
      • check with your child's doctor if your child is younger than 1
      • treat clothing with a product that contains permethrin, which is known to kill ticks on contact. Do not use permethrin on the skin.
  • Tests

    How does a doctor know that it's Rocky Mountain spotted fever?

    Your doctor will ask about any previous tick bites and look at the symptoms, especially the rash. Skin samples and lab tests are usually done to rule out other conditions.

  • The first step to treating RMSF is carefully removing the tick. After that, antibiotics are given to cure the infection. Complications are rare, but could include death. Once you child has the infection, she cannot get it again.

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