If you spend any time outdoors, chances are you take precautions to stay safe. You slather on sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays. You bundle up to ward off the cold. You keep your eyes peeled for dangerous wildlife or any signs of danger.
But what if I told you there was an ominous threat lurking in the great outdoors that was much much less obvious? So inconspicuous in fact, that you might not even notice if this stealthy menace attacked you.
This covert danger I’m referring to is a tick – and a specific pathogen these creepy crawlers can carry known as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Today we’re going to dive into exactly what Rocky Mountain spotted fever is, its dangerous and potentially fatal side effects, and most importantly – how you can protect yourself.
What Is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a bacterial infection caused by an organism known as Rickettsia rickettsii. While this bacterial microbe may be microscopic, its effects on the human body are anything but minute. You see, once you contract Rickettsia rickettsii it can wreak havoc on your body, and it goes something like this:1
- After making its way in through a tick bite, it taps into your lymphatic system and begins spreading throughout your body.
- As the bacteria travels, it infiltrates your endothelial cells and begins multiplying.
- Then, as the bacterial cells replicate, your own cells begin to rupture and die – causing blood and other cellular waste to begin leaking into your adjacent tissues.
This rupturing of your cells and the subsequent damage and leakage into your surrounding tissues is what causes the symptoms seen in Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Let’s take a deeper look at exactly what can happen with this sneaky invader.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Symptoms
Once infected, it can take anywhere from 3 to 12 days for symptoms to appear. Typically, the onset of Rocky Mountain spotted fever is abrupt, and initial early symptoms usually include:2,3
- Persistent high fever
- Severe headache
- Extreme and unrelenting fatigue
- Muscle aches and pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Confusion and/or other neurological changes
One of the telltale signs of infection is the classic Rocky Mountain spotted fever rash – for which this illness gets its name. You see, as cells die and blood leaks into the tissues beneath your skin, this blood begins to appear as tiny rash-like “spots” – known as petechial lesions.
While initial symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be unpleasant and debilitating, if symptoms are not addressed swiftly, this bacterial infection can lead to much more serious consequences.
What Happens if Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Goes Untreated?
If not addressed, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be fatal and cause have life-altering side effects including: 4,5,6
- Ulceration of skin: As more cells rupture beneath the skin, bleeding increases and tissue damage begins spreading, which can result in ulcers, tissue necrosis (tissue death), and/or gangrene. In some cases, it may even be necessary to amputate areas and extremities affected by severe tissue damage.
- Encephalitis: Rocky Mountain spotted fever causes leakage of blood vessels and skyrockets inflammation, which can spread to your brain and lead to seizures, spasticity, deafness, and even paralysis.
- Organ failure: Not only does infection with Rocky Mountain spotted fever cause massive inflammation, but damaged endothelial cells and blood vessels can become blocked by clotted blood and other cell remnants. This can inhibit blood flow and the delivery of life-giving oxygen and nutrients to your organs – causing serious damage to vital organs like your lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and spleen.
- Death: If not resolved, this unchecked inflammation and internal damage to blood vessels and organs can continue spiraling out of control and eventually become fatal.
With such grave and serious potential consequences of this bacterial infection, you’re probably wondering how exactly you contract this duplicitous microbe.
How Do You Get Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever got its name because it was first identified in the Rocky Mountains. But this infection isn’t exclusive to the Rocky Mountains. In fact, it’s most commonly seen in the southeastern part of the U.S. It also occurs in parts of Canada, Mexico, Central America, as well as South America.7
What all these areas have in common, is a regular and consistent population of ticks. You see, if you’re bitten by a tick infected with Rickettsia rickettsii, fluid from the tick can enter your body through the bite site – essentially injecting you with the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
While the Rickettsia rickettsii bacteria have been identified in other insect vectors – like lice, mites, fleas, and chiggers – ticks are by far the number one transmitters of this pathogen. And what makes tick bites and Rocky Mountain spotted fever particularly tricky and troublesome, is the fact that this infection is typically seen as what’s known as a co-infection.
What Is a Co-Infection?
If you contract multiple pathogens simultaneously from an infected tick or insect, you develop what’s referred to as co-infections. Ticks and other insects often harbor multiple infectious micro-organisms that you may be exposed to and potentially infected with if you’re unlucky enough to be bitten by one of these creepy crawlers.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been identified as a co-infection to Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne disease. Other Lyme co-infections include Bartonella, babesia, and tick-borne relapsing fever.
So, Can You Have Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
The answer is – yes.
When it comes to insect and tick-borne diseases, you can potentially end up with multiple different organisms transmitted from a single bite. Co-infections with multiple organisms can make diagnosing and treating the underlying issues particularly challenging. The presence of multiple infectious agents can not only cause a wide range of varying and confusing symptoms, but they can oftentimes have a synergistic effect – essentially amplifying each other’s side effects and symptoms.
Because Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other tick-borne infections can be quite complicated to diagnose and treat, it’s essential to seek expert guidance to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan to address all underlying pathogens.
How Is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Diagnosed?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be tricky to diagnose due to the fact that its initial symptoms are often vague. Plus, it can be particularly challenging to pinpoint if it’s being masked or manipulated by the contraction of other co-infectious pathogens. Doctors may conduct serological tests that assess for antibodies or take cultures of skin lesions to be analyzed under a microscope to determine if Rickettsia rickettsii is present.8
But because Rocky Mountian spotted fever can cause devastating and fatal side effects at a rapid rate, immediate treatment is crucial. So oftentimes, if Rocky Mountain spotted fever is suspected, treatment is started immediately even before waiting for the confirmation of test results.
So what exactly is the treatment protocol for Rocky Mountian spotted fever?
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Treatment
Immediate treatment with a course of an antibiotic known as Doxycycline is the standard treatment of choice for Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Doxycycline typically wipes out any Rickettsia rickettsii bacteria and resolves acute complications of Rocky Mountain spotted fever within several days.
But the truth is, while addressing the immediate threat of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and any other accompanying tick-borne microbes is crucial, it’s not where the story ends. You see, contracting a serious infection like this can throw your body and immune system out of whack. In fact, infections have been identified as triggers for serious long-term conditions like autoimmunity, mast cell activation syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
So if you’ve been exposed to Rocky Mountain spotted fever or any other tick-borne illnesses, it’s essential to ensure your immune system comes back down to its resting baseline state.
How Can I Best Support My Immune System?
To help your immune system bounce back after infection and keep it in tip-top shape year-round, here’s what I recommend:
- Prioritize sleep: Your immune system demands profuse amounts of energy – especially when it’s been grappling with an infection. Prioritizing rest and sleep will help rejuvenate your immune system’s depleted energy levels. Focus on getting a minimum of 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep each night. You can even take an all-natural sleep aid like Dream Powder or Sleep Essentials to help you drift off to sleep.
- Get heaps of immune-boosting nutrients: Your immune system requires lots of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, to perform at 100% capacity. Load up on healthy antioxidant-rich foods (like fresh fruits and veggies, high-quality protein, and healthy fats) to give your immune system the support it needs. And I recommend taking immune-boosting supplements like Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and Glutathione to fill in any nutritional gaps. Click here to learn about some of my other favorite immune-boosting supplements.
- Keep your gut happy and healthy: Your gut plays an intricate and vital role in the function and strength of your immune system. If your gut isn’t functioning at 100%, you can bet your bottom dollar your immune system isn’t either. Eating a balanced anti-oxidant-rich diet and incorporating some gut-boosting supplements like collagen and a daily probiotic are easy and effective ways to show your gut some love.
Making your well-being and immune health a priority is key when it comes to fighting off and/or recovering from an infection. But that’s not the only important way to protect yourself from infections like Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
So, How Can I Protect Myself From Tick Bites?
Preventing a tick or insect bite from happening in the first place is well worth the effort. So, if you’re planning on venturing someplace where you might come in contact with ticks, I highly encourage you to take the following precautions:9,10
- Stay on marked trails: If you’re walking outside, be sure to stay on marked trails and try to avoid brushing against tall grass or low hanging branches where ticks and insects like to hang out.
- Cover up: Wear closed shoes and long pants when outside.
- Use repellent: Apply an insect repellent to clothes and any exposed skin.
- Wear light-colored clothing: Wear clothes light in color so ticks or other insects are easier to visualize.
- Keep an eye out: Closely inspect your clothes and hair for ticks regularly and remove them promptly.
- Watch out for rodents: Thoroughly examine your home or anywhere you might be staying for any signs of rodents, which are well-known for carrying ticks and other disease-carrying insects.
While it may be impossible to completely avoid the possibility of being bitten by a tick or other insect, taking precautions to avoid a bite can go a long way in protecting yourself and your loved ones.
You Are Your Own Best Advocate
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a very serious condition. So if you’ve been bitten by a tick and/or suspect you may have contracted a tick-borne illness, I can’t overemphasize the importance of seeking medical guidance right away. And if you’re recovering from Rocky Mountain spotted fever or any other tick-borne illness, I also strongly suggest working with an experienced Integrative and Functional Medicine Practitioner to help you get to the root of your symptoms and help you fully recover.
Putting the overall well-being and the health of your immune system at the top of your priority list is critical when it comes to warding off and bouncing back from any infection or illness.
And when it comes to protecting your health, you are your own best advocate. You have the power to make healthy choices that bolster your health and well-being. And that’s why I’m devoted to providing you easy-to-understand and easy-to-implement information – to empower you to create radiant health for years to come.
So if you enjoyed this article, head over to my blog – it’s packed with information and resources to help you take charge of your health. And if you want to take it even deeper, you can sign up for my newsletter to get my very best content delivered straight to your inbox. All you have to do is enter your name and email address in the form below.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about the effects of Rocky Mountain spotted fever? What steps are you taking to prioritize your immune health? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.
Eight years ago I was out hiking when I suddenly felt mast cell cascade-ish, I looked at my torso (front) and it was covered with a zillion tiny red dots, was itchy, and I broke out in chills and sweats. I then felt like I had the flu for a few weeks, then months, then years. Fast forward I still feel flu-ish only now joints muscles and head aches. And my gut is shot. Maybe Rickettsia?
Hi, in 2013, I got Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from a tick while birding in the Salt Plains of Oklahoma, even though the tick was only on me for an afternoon. Luckily the fever appeared on day 7, and Dr. Google and I diagnosed it and went to urgent care. I explained it probably was RMSF, and they started me on doxycycline right away. Two days later, I saw my PCP, and she increased my dosage because i was still running the fever. It worked to clear it up. My hs-CRP levels had spiked to about 12 or so in the month or two after the bite, and slowly trended back down. I saw an infectious disease specialist about six months later because my pcp was still concerned, but she told me that it was a normal response, and that my numbers would reach normal levels eventually without further medication. She was right. I did take probiotics and take many natural anti inflammatory supplements