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Health Library : Common Childhood Injuries and Poisonings

 

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is an infection caused by the bite of an infected tick. It affects about 250 to 1,200 people a year in the U.S. 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. The disease is spread to humans through a bite from an infected tick; it is not spread from one person to another.

In the U.S., the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) have been identified as vectors who transmit the RMSF bacteria, as well as the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus).

What are the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

The following are the most common symptoms of RMSF. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may 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
  • Stomachache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Body aches
  • Sensitivity to light

Death has occurred in untreated cases of RMSF.

The symptoms of RMSF may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is RMSF diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on symptoms and past history of a tick bite. The appearance and characteristics of the rash are important. Skin samples and lab tests(antibody titer, kidney function tests, platelet count, prothrombin time, partial thromboplastin time, urinalysis, red blood cell count) are usually done to rule out other conditions and confirm the diagnosis.

What is the treatment for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:

Specific treatment for RMSF will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the infection
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the infection
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include antibiotics and supportive care (care aimed at treating the symptoms present).

How can Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever be prevented?

Once a child has RMSF, he or she cannot be reinfected. Some general guidelines for preventing RMSF include the following:

  • Ticks cannot bite through clothing; dress your child and family in:
    • Light-colored clothing.
    • Long-sleeved shirts tucked into pants.
    • Socks and closed-toe shoes.
    • Long pants with legs tucked into socks.
  • Check your family often for ticks, including:
    • All parts of the body that bend: behind the knees, between fingers and toes, underarms, and groin
    • Other areas where ticks are commonly found: belly button, in and behind the ears, neck, hairline, and top of the head
    • Areas of pressure points, including:
      • Where underwear elastic touches the skin
      • Where bands from pants or skirts touch the skin
      • Anywhere else where clothing presses on the skin
  • Visually check all other areas of the body and hair, and run fingers gently over skin. Run a fine-toothed comb through your child's hair to check for ticks.
  • Other helpful measures include:
    • When possible, walk on cleared paths and pavement through wooded areas and fields.
    • Shower after all outdoor activities are over for the day. It may take up to four to six hours for ticks to attach firmly to skin. Showering may help remove any loose ticks.
    • Use insect repellents safely:
      • Products that contain DEET are tick repellents, but may not kill the tick and are not 100 percent effective. Use a children's insect repellent (less than 30 percent DEET) and check with your child's physician if your child is younger than age 1 before using.
      • Treat clothing with a product that contains permethrin, which is known to kill ticks on contact. Do not use permethrin on the skin.
    • Check pets for ticks and treat as needed.

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