Avera Medical Minute: Ticks & Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Published: Jul. 17, 2023 at 9:36 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a bacterial disease spread through the bite of an infected tick.

About a year ago, Amy Blackstone started having symptoms that concerned her, and she went to the emergency room at Avera St. Luke’s.

“It wasn’t like the flu, it was much worse and I started to ache from head to toe and shake and almost convulse, and about two hours after that I could not physically get up off the bathroom floor and I had a temp of 104,” said Avera patient, Amy Blackstone.

She was examined by doctors to help figure out what exactly what was going on, including Dr. Roger Werth.

“We were asked to see her because of the severity of her abdominal pain and the elevated liver functions that can sometimes or typically indicate something is wrong with the gallbladder, the liver, the bile duct, etc.,” said Avera Medical Group Aberdeen Surgical Associates, Dr. Roger Werth. “Then it came down to ‘well if it isn’t a bad gallbladder then what is it,’ and that’s when the infectious disease specialists got involved.”

Thanks to the use of telemedicine, Avera infectious disease specialists in Sioux Falls were able to examine Blackstone’s symptoms even though she was in Aberdeen.

“It was just like having the person sitting there in the room with you and you felt the same amount of care and attention, even though it was a screen,” said Blackstone.

That helped determine that Blackstone had Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

“Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a bacterial infection you can get from the bite of a tick,” said Avera Medical Group Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Jawad Nazir. “Cases have been recognized in every state and we have seen several cases in South Dakota as well.”

Dr. Nazir says it’s important Blackstone went to the hospital to get checked out.

“The delay in treatment can lead to a very severe illness affecting multiple organs, even hospitalization, and unfortunately death, so it can be a life-threatening infection and the timing of the treatment is critical to prevent those complications,” said Dr. Nazir.

And her story offers a good reminder of how you can protect yourself when outdoors.

“The best prevention is protecting yourself when you are outside in tick-prone areas, avoidance of long grass, or if you have to be in that environment, long sleeve shirts, pants, boots, and then also gets your pets covered for ticks,” said Dr. Werth.

Blackstone continues to take that advice seriously, so she can continue to do all the things she enjoys when outdoors.

“You’ve got to be smart this time of year, living where we do, sunscreen and bug spray, and keeping yourself covered up if you’re out in the elements,” said Blackstone.

Blackstone didn’t even realize she had been bitten by a tick since no tick was ever removed. She was given antibiotics to help treat her. For more information, go to Avera.org/MedicalMinute.