Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD. Patient Handout

About Your Diagnosis

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is an acute illness caused by a microorganism called rickettsia that is transmitted to humans by an infected tick. It is common during the spring and summer months. It is not spread from person to person. Dogs and rodents can carry the tick that carries the organism, so it can be found in urban areas as well as rural areas.

Living With Your Diagnosis
Signs and symptoms usually occur within 2–5 days after being bitten by an infected tick. They include a high fever with chills; a red rash that first appears on the hands and feet, then spreads to the wrists and ankles, and finally spreads to the legs and trunk of the body; weakness with muscle aches and headaches; nausea and vomiting; shortness of breath with a cough; and mental confusion.

Hospitalization may be necessary during the acute phase of the illness. Antibiotics such as tetracycline or chloramphenicol may be prescribed. Aspirin products should be avoided to prevent possible bleeding complications. Patients should rest in bed until the fever is gone. A regular diet can be followed as tolerated. Extra fluid intake should be encouraged. Milk and antacids should not be given with the antibiotics.

The DOs
• Continue the antibiotics until finished. Usually they are needed for a week after the fever is gone.
• Increase your fluid intake, especially while you have a fever.
• Rest in bed as much as possible while you have a fever.
• Try a heating pad to relieve the muscle aches.
• Use only nonaspirin products to reduce fever and for minor pain.
In the future:
• Try to avoid exposure to ticks. Wear light-colored clothing with long sleeves and legs, and use insect repellant that is effective against ticks.
• Inspect your body frequently during outdoor activities.
• Remove a tick by using tweezers to gently grasp and pull it off; don’t crush the tick during removal. You can also apply oil to the tick body before pulling with a tweezer.
• Immediately report a rash or fever that occurs after a tick bite.

The DON’Ts
• Don’t skip doses or stop taking the antibiotics until finished.
• Don’t use aspirin or aspirin-containing medications. They may cause bleeding complications.
• Don’t drink milk or take antacids within 2 hours of taking the antibiotics.

When to Call Your Doctor
• If chest pain or increased shortness of breath occurs.
• If it is difficult to tolerate fluids, and there are signs of dehydration—dry skin, coated tongue, and decreased urge to urinate.
• If any area of the rash appears infected.
• If nonaspirin medications don’t decrease the fever.
• If a severe headache or seizures occur.
• If severe abdominal pain is present.
• If any bleeding occurs.