The symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever come in two stages. Initial symptoms such as headache, high fever, chills, fatigue, headache and nausea are fairly generic, and the disease can easily be misdiagnosed. Symptoms such as diarrhea, restlessness and delirium can develop, along with a rash that can appear on the wrists and ankles. Among the common symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the rash is the most distinctive and is the easiest method of identifying the disease.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a bacterial infection most often transmitted by a tick bite. Ticks infected with Rickettsia rickettsii, the bacteria responsible for causing the symptoms of this disease, can be found throughout North America and South America. These ticks are most active during spring and summer months, meaning that infection is most likely during this period.
Early symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever appear appear within two weeks of a bite from the infected tick. These initial symptoms strike suddenly and without warning. Tick bites do not cause pain or discomfort, meaning that the patient is often unaware of the bite or the exposure to the disease, making early misdiagnosis more likely.
Fever is often among the first symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever to be noticed. This fever is quite high, typically reaching temperatures of at least 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius). Temperatures might reach as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius).
As with other high fevers, this disease can cause secondary symptoms such as fatigue, chills, aches and headache. Bright light might intensify pain and discomfort. Other initial symptoms include gastrointestinal distress such as a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. The patient might also experience abdominal pain.
Patients experiencing these symptoms are likely to consult with a doctor. The early symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are nonspecific and resemble many other diseases. Although doctors are especially aware of the disease during warmer months and in regions where tick bites are more prevalent, misdiagnosis is possible in the absence of more specific symptoms, especially when ticks have not been discovered.
Secondary symptoms generally appear within three to five days after the fever begins. As the disease progresses, the patient might experience restlessness, insomnia or delirium. The patient might also suffer from diarrhea.
During this period, the patient also will develop a rash. This spotty or blotchy rash typically appears on the wrists or ankles before spreading. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is most easily identified by this rash. It should be noted, however, that this rash is not always present, and it might not be pronounced on darker-pigmented skin.
Treatment for Rocky Mountain spotted fever usually requires a course of antibiotics, and hospitalization might be required to manage the symptoms. Left untreated, this disease is life threatening. Even when the disease proves to be nonfatal, the fever can cause serious damage to vital organs and systems as well as permanent debilitating medical conditions.