What Is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? – Symptoms and Prevention

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a disease caused by rickettsia, which is a group of bacteria of the gram-negative type. More specifically, it is the strain known as Rickettsia rickettsii which is responsible for the disease. The rickettsia are obligate intracellular parasites; that is, they only survive when they are in the cells of their hosts.

RMSF is a tick-borne disease. RMSF is also known as tick typhus.

tick - RMSF

Who can be affected by RMSF?

Children are the most common victims of the disease. Adult males are also vulnerable in some regions of the world. Disease incidence increases with the greater exposure to habitats where ticks thrive.

Transmission of RMSF

RMSF is propagated through infected tick bites: if someone gets bitten by a tick which has been previously infected with the rickettsia bacteria, he will get infected with the bacteria.

One of the common tick vectors is the American dog tick (Dermacentar variabilis).

Transmission can also occur via contaminated skin. If skin is contaminated with tick blood or faeces, the bacteria can be propagated into humans.

The disease is not contagious from human to human.

What are the symptoms of RMSF?

The symptoms begin appearing two weeks or so after the tick bite.

  • Sudden onset of fever which varies from moderate to high.
  • The fever might last for two to three weeks.
  • Severed headache
  • Fatigue
  • Deep muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Rashes appearing on the limbs, spreading to the soles of the feet or hand palms, and possibly to the rest of the body


Permanent immunity may be acquired after having been bitten once by an infected tick.

What is the treatment for RMSF?

The disease is caused by bacteria: therefore, antibiotics are used as treatment. Tetracycline or chloramphenicol are used to cure the patients from the disease.

Prevention of RMSF

Precautions should be taken when one is in tick-infested habitats like wooded and grassy areas such that tick bites are avoided.

  • Wearing light-coloured clothing so as to detect ticks easily.
  • Wearing proper clothing cover to prevent ticks from getting onto the skin.
  • Checking for the presence of ticks on clothing and skin after having returned from such outdoor activities.
  • Making sure that any attached tick is removed within 36 hours to prevent infection.

How to remove the ticks in case they have been found attached to the skin?

With the use of tweezers, get hold of the mouth-parts of the ticks.

Do not squeeze or puncture the ticks because these could cause infected fluids to gush out.

Disinfect the site of attachment on the skin after having removed the ticks.

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