I contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) five years ago. It was Fourth of July weekend and we were enjoying time with our family at our property in Alabama. I couldn’t pass up the blackberry thickets which were loaded with juicy ripe berries so I waded through the tall grass to pick a bucket load with visions of blackberry cobbler for dinner. That evening while taking a shower I noticed a small tick embedded on my upper leg. Hey, I’ve spent a lot of time in the summer woods and removed a lot of ticks in the past. This one came out easily.
About three weeks later I started exhibiting flu like symptoms. I would have chills, then a fever with headache, nausea then periods of normal health. I just shook it off as summer flu. The problem was the cycle of chills and fever continued and got progressively worse. By the first week of August the chill cycles were so strong I couldn’t write and was wearing a coat in 80 degree weather. One day a customer in the store asked why I was wearing a coat and after describing the symptoms she immediately said, “You need to see a doctor. You’ve got tick fever.”
Naturally this was on a weekend late on a Saturday. The next morning I went to Urgent Care, explained my symptoms, and told them what my customer said. They did blood test and gave me some antibiotics. The next day a visit to our family physician and another blood test confirmed the diagnosis: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The antibiotics cleared it up in a couple of weeks. My doctor said I was lucky. Had we not caught it when we did it could have led to permanent disability or death.
The two most prevalent tick borne diseases are RMSF and Lyme Disease, with RMSF being the more likely in our region. Most Lyme disease cases are in the northeast and upper Midwest. In addition to the symptoms I experienced, you can show signs of nausea and loss of appetite. If not treated early, a rash can develop around the wrists and ankles. The bacteria are in the bloodstream and as it progresses it starts to weaken the blood vessels. If detected early it is easily treated with antibiotics.
Lyme Disease is different. It is normally transmitted by the near microscopic deer tick which causes a tick bite to go unnoticed for quite a while. In its early stages you may experience flu-like symptoms including a stiff neck, chills, fever (sound familiar?) headaches, muscle aches, and joint pain. You will also see a rash expanding around the bite area. It is difficult to diagnose the disease with blood test. If discoverd early it also can be easily treated with antibiotics like doxycycline or amoxicillin for two to three weeks.
Now rest assured not every tick bite results in either RMSF or Lyme. In fact very few cases do. But if you spend much time in the outdoors fishing, hiking, preparing fall food plots for deer, or camping the risk is always there. The best thing to do is a sound prevention program that includes wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts (yea, it’s hot) with sleeves buttoned around the wrists and pants tucked inside boots. You will also want to spray insect repellant around your wrists, waist, and ankles.
Should you find a tick embedded in your skin after being outdoors, remove it immediately using the proper methods. Continue to watch the bite area for swelling, red rings or a rash. Symptoms tend to manifest two to three weeks after the bite. So remember the incident and if you begin to experience flu-like symptoms to include chills, fevers, headaches, and nausea immediately visit your doctor. I was fortunate that my customer walked in that day. Some people are not and suffer permanent disability or even die. Let’s all enjoy the outdoors and be safe.