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Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (cont.)

Is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Contagious?

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is not contagious from person to person. The disease requires, in most instances, transfer of bacteria from the tick bite to the individual. Infrequently, some people can become infected with the bacteria if they contact tick droppings or crushed dead ticks.

What Are Signs and Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? What Is the Incubation Period for RMSF?

Unfortunately, the early symptoms of RMSF are nonspecific, such as fever (usually greater than 102 F), chills, nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle pain, and fatigue; these symptoms are frequently ignored or attributed to other causes. The rash, abdominal pain, joint pains, and diarrhea usually develop about two to 14 days (incubation period) after an infected tick bite. The rash (red spots) usually begins on the wrists and ankles and spreads to the palms and soles of the feet, but some individuals (about 10%-15%) do not develop it. Other symptoms that may occur are loss of appetite, hallucinations, photosensitivity (sensitivity to light), eye redness, and excessive thirst.

Unless the patient tells the doctor a tick bite has happened, the doctor may not realize the patient may have RMSF. Children who get infected tick bites may not communicate this important fact to their parents or doctor; likewise, many adults do not remember or even notice getting a tick bite. The classic symptoms of RMSF are a tick bite followed by fever and a rash. If the patient does not exhibit all three symptoms (tick bite, fever, and rash), the diagnosis frequently either is not correct or is delayed. A delay in diagnosis may allow time for severe symptoms and/or complications to develop. Severe symptoms of RMSF are thrombocytopenia (low blood platelets that can lead to internal bleeding), hyponatremia (low sodium), meningismus (a condition of neck stiffness, headache, and possible fever suggesting brain membrane irritation), confusion, blindness, or coma that can result in poor health or death.

Picture of child's hand and wrist with spotted rash of Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Picture of child's hand and wrist with spotted rash of Rocky Mountain spotted fever; Source: CDC
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/21/2017

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