Know signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

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By April Thomas

Editor’s note: The following was provided by the Anderson County Health Department following the newspaper being told that two people in Anderson County have contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever this spring. State officials said they have no reports of anyone contracting the disease so far this year.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a tickborne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii.
RMSF is a potentially fatal human illness that by the bite of infected tick species.
In the United States, these include the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and brown dog tick.
Typical symptoms include: fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting and muscle pain. A rash may also develop, but is often absent in the first few days, and in some patients, never develops.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be a severe or even fatal illness if not treated in the first few days of symptoms.
Antibiotics are the first line treatment for adults and children of all ages, and is most effective if started before the fifth day of symptoms.
The initial diagnosis is made based on clinical signs and symptoms, and medical history, and can later be confirmed by using specialized laboratory tests.  RMSF and other tickborne diseases can be prevented.
The first symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) typically begin two and14 days after the bite of an infected tick. A tick bite is usually painless and about half of the people who develop RMSF do not remember being bitten.
The disease frequently begins as a sudden onset of fever and headache and most people visit a healthcare provider during the first few days of symptoms. Because early symptoms may be non-specific, several visits may occur before the diagnosis of RMSF is made and correct treatment begins. The following is a list of symptoms commonly seen with this disease, however, it is important to note that few people with the disease will develop all symptoms, and the number and combination of symptoms varies greatly from person to person.
Rash (occurs two to five days after fever, may be absent in some cases; see below)
Abdominal pain (may mimic appendicitis or other causes of acute abdominal pain)
Muscle pain
Lack of appetite
Conjunctival injection (red eyes)
RMSF is a serious illness that can be fatal in the first eight days of symptoms if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people. The progression of the disease varies greatly. Patients who are treated early may recover quickly on outpatient medication, while those who experience a more severe course may require intravenous antibiotics, prolonged hospitalization or intensive care.
While most people with RMSF (90 percent) have some type of rash during the course of illness, some people do not develop the rash until late in the disease process, after treatment should have already begun.  Approximately 10 percent of RMSF patients never develop a rash. It is important for physicians to consider RMSF if other signs and symptoms support a diagnosis, even if a rash is not present.
A classic case of RMSF involves a rash that first appears two to five days after the onset of fever as small, flat, pink, non-itchy spots (macules) on the wrists, forearms, and ankles and spreads to include the trunk and sometimes the palms and soles.
Often the rash varies from this description and people who fail to develop a rash, or develop an atypical rash, are at increased risk of being misdiagnosed.

How to remove a tick

How to remove a tick
If you find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic; a set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively.

Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
 Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible — not waiting for it to detach.

April Thomas is a health educator and preparedness coordinator for the Anderson County Department of Health. Reach her at 839-4551, ext. 1110.