Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

I’m not sure if watching Dracula movies as a youngster, the old black and white films, planted the seed of fear in my subconscious, but the idea of some nasty creature piercing my skin and sucking my blood totally disgusts me. Today I’m a grown man and know what … something sucking the blood out of my body still disgusts me. Everything from rocky mountain spotted fever to HIV and AIDS is transferable through blood. In an odd way I wish there was a Dracula, because there was only one of him, but today’s blood sucking killers are ticks and there are millions of them.

When discussing the negative effects of a nasty tick bite most people will think of Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection that causes severe flu-like symptoms in a person. The disease may make you so sick you may wish you would die, but it is rarely fatal. However, a fairly recent tick induced disease has been identified by the CDC, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and although cases of Lyme disease far outnumber cases of RMSF, the later is on the rise. There have been 37,000 confirmed cases reported to the CDC from 2004 to 2016, and the numbers continue to climb.

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RMSF is a disease caused by the spotted fever group of bacteria known as Rickettsia, and due to its rapid spread once infected it is considered fatal if not properly and quickly diagnosed. A Wisconsin woman in her late 50s died just a few days after being diagnosed with RMSF as she waited too long to seek proper medical attention. The bacteria is most commonly transmitted through American dog ticks, mountain wood ticks or brown dog ticks. Don’t be fooled by the name, the majority of the reported cases are located in North Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma, all a far cry from the Rocky Mountains.

As I stated earlier, because of the rapid progress through the body, the disease can be life-threatening. Therefore, it is imperative to catch the disease in its earliest stages in order to cure it before severe damage can occur and the best method for that is learning the warning signs that you have been infected.

Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever:

It’s imperative vigilance and common sense be utilized when self-diagnosing yourself when you fall ill. The early symptoms of RMSF consist of flu-like symptoms and wouldn’t normally raise any alarm of serious consequences. However, have you recently been exposed to any possible tick infested environment? Walk through a field of high grass or journey down a wooded backpack trail? If you have you have been potentially exposed to a disease much worse than the flu.

These symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after being bitten by an infected tick.

  • Severe Headache

  • High Fever and Chills

  • Stomach or severe muscle cramps or pain

  • Confusion or hallucinations

  • Nausea, severe diarrhea or vomiting

  • Unusual Sensitivity to light

  • Lack of appetite

  • A Rash appearing on the skin

Caution, a rash does not appear on every person, but if one does its a very telltale sign you are infected. The rash will vary in appearance, from a red and splotchy skin patch to a series of pinpointed dots, typically appearing at the palms of your hands or soles of your feet. Again do not ignore other symptoms just because a rash fails to appear.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is Deadly and on the Rise:

Medically Treating Rocky Mountain spotted fever:

I can not stress the importance of early treatment in order to avoid complications enough. If you suspect you are infected seek professional medical help immediately and tell them of your suspicions. If you’re wrong fine, but if you’re right you may have just saved your own life.

  • The doctor will draw blood for tests to verify that you are indeed infected, however he will most likely prescribe antibiotics before the verified blood tests come back because of the rapid and aggressive progression of the disease.

  • The traditionally preferred and most effective treatment is a round of antibiotic drugs known as doxycycline, particularly effective if administered within 5 days of experiencing symptoms.

  • Other treatments are an antibiotic called tetracycline, or chloramphenicol if you are pregnant.

Fortunately only about 3% of RMSF cases turn fatal, but because the infection can lead to brain damage, heart, lung and kidney failure, or meningitis if left untreated, the seeking out of professional medical care is highly recommended.

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Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Protection:

The best way to treat RMSF is to never get it in the first place and there are methods to reduce the possibilities. To calm your nerves, the National Institutes of Health estimates that only 1 in 1000 dog and wood ticks are carriers of the bacteria that causes the disease. Additionally, if you do get bit, but the tick is latched onto you less than 20 hours, the chances of infection are reduced.

A few measures to take to prevent the blood-sucking pests at bay.

  • Cover up when in tick friendly environments. Wear long sleeve shirts and pants.

  • Generously use tick repellent sprays, which contain at least 20% Deet, Picardin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Spray your clothes and all exposed skin.

  • Treat your clothing, gear or tents with 5% permethrin ( an insecticide) 48 hours before you enter the woods.

  • Shower after spending time in the outdoors and do a complete body check for the nasty things. Pay extra attention to body areas of creases such as underarms, ears, behind knees, between your legs in the groin area, and your hair.

  • Thoroughly check out your pets. Remember, they can’t check themselves but they can carry the nasty things inside your home.

  • If you have doubts about ticks in your clothes, throw them in the dryer on High Heat for 15 to 20 minutes to kill any hidden pests. If you wash the clothes first, use hot water.

Removing an Attached Tick:

A major problem can be produced by not taking the proper steps and/or the proper attitude when removing an attached tick. You don’t just grab it and pull it off or smother it with Vaseline or burn it with your cigarette. There are proper procedures.

You’ll need pointy tweezers, not the typical kind you pluck eyebrows with, as they have squared off ends and may not be able to grasp a tick as small as a poppy seed. you’ll also need rubbing alcohol or an anti-bacteria soap with water.

  • Clean the area around the tick bite with alcohol

  • Get your tweezers down onto your skin so you can grab the tick by the head or as close as possible.

  • Pull up slow and firm there’s no rush, don’t jerk or twist. If the head does come off while being pulled out and you can’t extract it … don’t worry. The body will destroy it and heal perfectly fine.

  • Once the tick is extracted, clean the bite area again with alcohol or soap and water.

Now What?

You essentially have 2 choices after extracting the blood sucking creep. Get it tested for disease or get rid of it.

  • For testing place the tick in a plastic bag along with a blade of grass and take it for testing. Unless there happens to be an outbreak of tick borne diseases in the area I wouldn’t mess with it, but that’s your choice.

  • Some State agencies perform tests, some don’t. Consult your doctor for more info.

To get the nasty thing out of your life:

  • Drown it in a container of rubbing alcohol

  • Flush it down the toilet. I don’t recommend this as I want the lousy thing dead

  • Wrap it in tape and throw in the trash

  • Burn it with a match or butt of a lit cigarette, I’m telling ya I hate these things

  • Do not crush them between your fingers. Number one its extremely hard to do and secondly you can incur the disease from doing this.

Removing a Tick From Your Dog:

Now I’m really peeved. Mess with me is one thing … mess with my dog and prepare to die. Using the same tools as utilized for yourself.

  • Depending on whether your dog is a short hair or long hair variety will dictate the degree of difficulty in searching for attached ticks. Do a slow and methodical search much like a crime scene detective. Start at the head and work down paying special attention to the leg/body area.

  • Once you discover a tick, use the tweezers to grab the tick, as close to the head as possible.

  • Be very careful not to squeeze the body of the tick trying to re-position it or by mistake as this can cause bacteria and disease carrying material into the injection site.

  • Pull straight out slowly and firmly, not twisting or squeezing. Slight bleeding may occur but is nothing to worry about.

  • After the removal, gently clean the area of the bite with mild soap and water, as alcohol will sting. Watch the spot for infection.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is no laughing matter and can be deadly. It’s important to understand removal of the tick and how it’s done is quite important. There is no trick or shortcut to make a tick release its hold until it has totally filled itself with the victims blood, completing its meal. Do not apply hot matches, nail polish, Vaseline, alcohol or other chemicals to the site. These methods do not work and could actually be harmful.


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