Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Ticks carry many diseases, including Lyme disease, Tularemia, Colorado tick disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Babesiosis. One disease ticks carry, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, can cause serious complications or even death, if not treated promptly. The disease was initially discovered in the Rocky Mountains. Today, the disease is most commonly seen in the southeastern part of the US. The disease is also seen in parts of Canada, Central America, Mexico, and South America. The disease’s flu-like symptoms can make it difficult to diagnose. Fortunately, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be successfully resolved with prompt treatment.


Many individuals begin to have symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever within one week of infection, but symptoms can take up to 14 days to appear after infection occurs. The initial symptoms of the disease tend to be nonspecific and mimic those of several other conditions, which can make diagnosis difficult. Nausea and vomiting, severe headache, muscle aches, chills, high fever, and confusion and other neurological symptoms are signs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

If you have Rocky Mountain spotted fever, you may also develop a rash. The rash typically shows up three to five days after the first symptoms of the disease appear. The rash typically appears on your ankles and wrists first. The rash may spread down to the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands or up to your legs and arms. Some individuals with the disease never develop a rash.

Without prompt treatment, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can cause some serious complications with your internal organs. The disease alters the lining of the smallest blood vessels in the body, which results in the vessels either leaking or forming clots.

Inflammation in the brain can be caused by Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can result in neurological symptoms, such as seizures, confusion, and delirium. Damage to the blood vessels in your kidneys can eventually lead to kidney failure. The disease can also cause inflammation in parts of the lungs and heart, which can result in lung or heart failure in severe cases.

Some of the smallest blood vessels in your body are located in your fingers and toes, and if these vessels aren’t working properly, you can develop gangrene. Amputation of fingers and toes that have gangrene is necessary. Unfortunately, when Rocky Mountain spotted fever is left untreated, death may occur.


The disease is caused when a tick carrying the organism Rickettsia rickettsii feeds on you. You are most at risk for getting the disease in early spring to late summer when ticks are most prominent. Living in areas where the disease is common puts you at higher risk of getting it.

If you find a tick on your skin, it’s important to remove it as soon as possible. Use a tweezers to grab the tick near its head or mouth to remove it. Flush the tick down the toilet. Cleanse the bite site with an antiseptic, and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.


Because the initial signs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever mimic those of many other diseases, diagnosis can be challenging. Laboratory tests can check a rash specimen, blood, or the tick itself for Rickettsia rickettsii.


Many doctors do not wait for the results of laboratory tests before they begin treating for Rocky Mountain spotted fever because prompt treatment is so important. Starting treatment for Rocky Mountain spotted fever within three to five days of symptom onset gives you the best chance for avoiding the disease’s complications.

The antibiotic, doxycycline, is the most effective treatment for the disease. However, this antibiotic is not a good choice for pregnant women. If you are pregnant, your doctor may prescribe the antibiotic, chloramphenicol, instead.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be transmitted to you by an infected tick. If you have symptoms of the disease, it’s important to see your doctor right away. Prompt treatment with antibiotics can help you avoid serious complications of the disease.