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Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: A Lethal Disease

Rocky mountain spotted fever A lethal disease
Dr. Monika Bhanushali
Dr. Monika Bhanushali
August12/ 2016

Rocky mountain spotted fever is also known as Blue disease. It is also known by some other names such as tick typhus, tobia fever and sao Paulo fever.  It is one of the most dangerous and life threatening rickettsial disease in American continents.

Rocky mountain spotted fever is known as such because it was first identified in the region of Rocky Mountains. It is found in almost all the parts of America and Canada. It is a life threatening disease in which 3 to 5 % people succumb to death after getting infected.

Rickettsia is a type of bacterium. The bacterium resides in the body of the tick, most commonly American dog tick and wood tick. The tick acts as a reservoir as well as a vector of the bacterium. Rickettsial disease is a type of zoonosis. Zoonosis are the diseases of animals that can be transmitted to humans.The rocky mountain spotted fever is most commonly transmitted to humans by tick bites.

Signs and symptoms:

The person suffering from rocky mountain fever can complain of following symptoms which are vague and be present in any infectious or non- infectious conditions:

  1. Fever
  2. Nausea and vomiting
  3. Severe headache
  4. Severe muscle pain
  5. Decreased appetite
  6. Swelling of the cheeks due to Inflammation of the parotid glands
  7. Body rash
  8. Pain in the abdomen
  9. Redness of the eyes
  10. Joint pain

Sometimes there is classical history of tick bite along with fever and rash given by the patients. It is called as spotted fever because there is rash on the body and the patient has fever.


The diagnosis of the rocky mountain spotted fever is a tricky one. Even much experienced doctors can also miss the diagnosis due to vague presentation of the symptoms and signs in the patients. Following tests are done for diagnosis:

  1. Complete Blood count: it shows decreased number of platelets.
  2. Serum electrolytes: it shows decreased concentration of sodium in the blood pointing to electrolyte imbalance.
  3. Liver function tests: liver enzymes such as SGPT and SGOT are raised.
  4. Skin Biopsy: a piece of skin is removed and examined under microscopy. It is one of the most confirmatory test done to diagnose rocky mountain spotted fever.
  5. Antibody testing: antibodies produced against the rickettsia bacteria can be identified in the blood after 7 days of the infection.


The patient is first admitted in the hospital and then following treatment modalities are implemented.

  1. Antibiotics: appropriate antibacterial treatment is started as soon as possible even after suspicion of Rocky mountain spotted fever. Tetracycline or doxycycline is commonly used for treatment.
  2. Anti pyretics: medicines such as paracetamol are given to bring down the fever.
  3. Electrolytes balance: the imbalance in electrolytes is corrected.
  4. Rest and hydration: the patient should be kept hydrated with saline infusion or oral water intake. And should take plenty of rest.

The rickettsia bacterium can travel to heart, skin, brain after the infection and may cause significant damage.

It can give rise to following complications if left untreated:

  1. Gangrene
  2. Fluid in lungs
  3. Kidney and liver failure
  4. Myocarditis
  5. Arrhythmias
  6. Encephalitis and seizures

Hence if you are having history of tick bite and presence of the above given symptoms, get yourself checked from your physician. RMSF is a disease which if caught early can prevent life threatening complications.

Dr. Monika Bhanushali
Dr. Monika Bhanushali

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