Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

  • Medical Author:
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Editor: Steven Doerr, MD
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Pictures Slideshow

Quick GuideRocky Mountain Spotted Fever Pictures Slideshow: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Pictures Slideshow: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

How do health-care providers diagnose Rocky Mountain spotted fever?

RMSF can be difficult to initially diagnose, as many of the early symptoms (such as headache and fever) are commonly seen with many other viral or bacterial infections. The presence of the classic rash usually helps in establishing the diagnosis, however, not all patients with RMSF will develop a rash. A tentative clinical diagnosis of RMSF can be made based on the patient's symptoms and their physical exam, in addition to a history of possible tick exposure. The prompt initiation of treatment in suspected RMSF is crucial, even before confirmatory test results are obtained. Specialized laboratory tests (such as immunofluorescent antibody tests, latex agglutination, or enzyme immunoassays) are available to confirm the diagnosis of RMSF. However, these tests are not readily available in all health-care facilities, and results of these tests may take days or weeks.

During infection with RMSF, an individual's immune system will develop antibodies usually within the first seven to 10 days after illness onset (therefore the confirmatory lab tests might be negative during the first week). The indirect immunofluorescent assay needs to be performed on two samples to show a rise in antibody titers (the first sample is usually taken during the first week, and the second sample about two to four weeks later).

Additional routine blood tests, such as a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel, liver function tests, and coagulation studies will be obtained. These blood tests can help monitor for any potential complications, such as kidney failure or problems with blood clotting. An electrocardiogram (ECG) or chest X-ray may also be obtained if there are any potential cardiac or pulmonary manifestations of the disease. In individuals who have confusion or seizures, a CT scan of the brain may also be ordered. Additional tests will depend on the patient's symptoms and the severity of the disease.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/1/2015

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