Could You Have this Fatal Fever?

Could You Have this Fatal Fever?

If you live in the southeastern part of the United States, you’ve probably heard of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (known as RMSF). In fact, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri have accounted for over 60% of RMSF cases. However, it also occurs in parts of Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America. With RMSF set to peak soon in south central US, including right here in Nashville, I thought the time was right for a dermatologist to break down what it is and what you should be aware of.

How does it happen?

RMSF is a tickborne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii. This organism is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected tick species. If not treated within the first few days of symptoms, it can become severe or even fatal.

What are the symptoms of RMSF?

Typical symptoms of RMSF include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. A rash may also develop, but it is often absent in the first few days and in some patients, never develops. If you see a rash, see your Nashville dermatologist immediately.

How is it treated?

Doxycycline is the first line of treatment for adults and children of all ages. As a recent study in Pediatric Dermatology showed, Doxycycline therapy must be initiated within the first five days of symptoms for a more favorable outcome. After an initial diagnosis is made based on signs and symptoms, it can be confirmed using specialized laboratory tests.

I had a personal experience with a Nashville patient who returned from being in the mountains a few years ago that had fever, rashes, muscle pain and tiredness, who was treated with Doxycycline. Even though we did lab work to look for RMSF and other tickborne diseases, they all came back negative - however, she did recover. Looking back, I believe this was perhaps a case of RMSF that was treated early, without the labs to prove it.

What season does it peak at?

Although cases of RMSF can occur during any month of the year, the majority of cases reported to take place during the summer months and a peak in cases typically occurs in the months of June and July. However, this can vary somewhat for different regions of the country due to the climate and the tick vectors involved. In Arizona, where transmission is associated with the brown dog tick, peak months of illness onset are April through October.

Who I can see if I think I have RMSF?

That’s where we come in! If you believe you have symptoms of RMSF or want to learn more about it, please visit us at Skin Solutions Dermatology in Nashville, Franklin, Columbia, Smyrna, Hendersonville or Pulaski to chat with our amazing team of dermatology specialists! Take advantage of our online booking system and book an appointment today.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pediatric Dermatology

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Dr Pena

About The Author

Dr. Pena is a Board-Certified Medical Dermatologist, Mohs skin cancer surgeon, and cosmetic dermatologist. Her mission is to educate the diverse patient populations she serves, and their communities, on the importance of skin care in decreasing the risk of skin cancer and minimizing the early signs of aging. She founded Skin Solutions Dermatology with numerous clinics in Nashville, Tennessee and surrounding Middle Tennessee.

Dr. Julia Pena, MD