Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) in Children
What is Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a bacterial infection spread by the bite of
an infected tick. It usually occurs from April until September, but it can occur anytime
during the year where weather is warm. The mid-Atlantic and southeastern states are
most affected. The disease is spread to humans through a bite from an infected tick;
it is not spread from one person to another.
In the U.S., the American dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog
tick, have been identified as the ticks that transmit the RMSF bacteria.
What are the symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
These are the most common symptoms of RMSF:
RMSF is a serious illness that should be treated as soon as possible. Death has occurred
in untreated cases of RMSF.
The symptoms of RMSF may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always see
your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is RMSF diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider can diagnose Rocky Mountain spotted fever based on your symptoms
and history of a tick bite. The appearance and characteristics of the rash are important,
if your child gets one. Skin biopsy samples and lab tests are usually done to rule
out other conditions and confirm the diagnosis.
What is the treatment for Rocky Mountain spotted fever?
Treatment may include antibiotics and treating the symptoms. Doxycycline is the antibiotic
of choice, and it will be continued for several days after the fever goes away. Doxycycline
is in the tetracycline drug family, and these drugs are usually not given to children
under the age of 8 because of the risk of staining the permanent teeth. However, in
the case of suspected RMSF, it is more important to treat the illness.
How can Rocky Mountain spotted fever be prevented?
Once a child has RMSF, he or she cannot be reinfected. Some general guidelines for
preventing RMSF include the following:
Since ticks cannot bite through clothing; dress your child and family in:
Light-colored clothing so that ticks can be easily seen
Long-sleeved shirts tucked into pants
Socks and closed-toe shoes
Long pants with legs tucked into socks
Check your family often for ticks, including:
All parts of the body that bend: behind the knees, between fingers and toes, underarms,
Other areas where ticks are commonly found: belly button, in and behind the ears,
neck, hairline, and top of the head
Areas of pressure points, including:
Where underwear elastic touches the skin
Where bands from pants or skirts touch the skin
Anywhere else where clothing presses on the skin
All other areas of the body and hair, and run fingers gently over skin. Run a fine-toothed
comb through your child's hair to check for ticks.
Other helpful measures include:
When possible, walk on cleared paths and pavement through wooded areas and fields.
Shower after all outdoor activities are over for the day. It may take up to 4 to 6
hours for ticks to attach firmly to skin. Showering may help remove any loose ticks.
Use insect repellents safely:
Products that contain DEET are tick repellents, but may not kill the tick and are
not 100% effective. Use a children's insect repellent (20% to 30% DEET). The current recommendations
from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC for children older than 2 months
of age are to use 10% to 30% DEET. Products that contain DEET should not be used on
infants less than 2 months of age. Do not apply insect repellants around your child's
mouth, nose, or eyes, or over cuts or open sores.
Treat clothing with small amounts of a product that contains permethrin, which is
known to kill ticks on contact. Do not use permethrin on the skin.
Check pets for ticks and treat as needed.