Story by: Sara Thompson on July 7, 2023
Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a disease caused by bacteria carried by ticks. The bacteria spreads to humans through a bite from a tick.
Ticks in Kentucky include wood ticks and dog ticks. Lyme disease is spread by deer ticks, but is fairly uncommon in Kentucky. Ticks are present year-round, but they are most active from March to September.
“Rocky mountain spotted fever is one of the most common tick-borne illnesses in the state,” said Christina M. Breit, M.D., internal medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates. “It’s important to check yourself and your family for ticks after hiking or spending time in wooded or grassy areas.”
Recent exposure to ticks in an area where the disease is known to occur puts you at higher risk for contracting RMSF. The disease is unlikely to be transmitted to a person by a tick that has been attached for less than 20 hours. About 1 in 1,000 wood and dog ticks carry the bacteria. Bacteria also can infect people who crush ticks they have removed from skin or from pets with their bare fingers.
Many people don’t even realize they have been bitten by a tick.
The rash associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever can look like red splotches or red pinpoint dots. While almost all patients with RMSF will develop a rash, it often does not appear early in illness, which can make RMSF difficult to diagnose.
If you show any of these symptoms, see a health care provider right away. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be fatal, even in previously healthy people.
One to four days after exposure:
Five or more days after exposure
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“The easiest and safest way to remove a tick is to use tweezers,” Dr. Breit said.
“There is no vaccine against tick-borne illnesses,” Dr. Breit said. “But knowing where you could come into contact with ticks can help keep you and your family safer.”
Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions with any chemical such as permethrin, and check with your veterinarian about pet-safe products. Norton Healthcare can assess emergency and nonemergency tick bite situations. Call your health care provider if you begin to show symptoms, or visit an immediate care center.
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