Avera Medical Minute: What is Rocky Mountain spotted fever?

Published: Jul. 18, 2023 at 9:22 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - You have probably found a tick on yourself or even your pet at least once, but a bite from the wrong tick can cause serious problems.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a bacterial disease spread through the bite of an infected tick.

One woman shares her experience after making a recovery from the life-threatening illness.

Amy Blackstone loves spending time outdoors — from running to fishing and even just playing fetch with her dog.

But about a year ago, she started having symptoms that sent her 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 Blackstone.

She was examined by doctors to help figure out what exactly was going on, including Dr. Roger Werth with Avera Medical Group Aberdeen Surgical Associates

“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 Dr. 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 Dr. Jawad Nazir with Avera Medical Group Infectious Disease Specialists. “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 getting 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, visit avera.org/medicalminute.