Health Team

State records first death from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Posted July 23, 2009 6:09 p.m. EDT

— The state has recorded its first death this year from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the death of a Buncombe County man in mid-May was the result of the disease.

RMSF is transmitted by the bite of an infected tick. The American dog tick, which is commonly found on untreated dogs in the state, is the main source of disease .

Deaths from RMSF are rare. The last Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever death in the state occurred in 2008 in Wilkes County.

About 675 cases of the disease have been reported annually in the state over the last three years.

“This death is a sad reminder that ticks in our state can carry dangerous and potentially fatal diseases,” said Acting State Epidemiologist Jean-Marie Maillard. “North Carolina and Oklahoma are the states with the highest numbers of reported RMSF cases relative to their population each year, so we need to be especially vigilant here in avoiding tick bites.”

According to the CDC, key symptoms are fever, muscle pain, headache and rash. Some early symptoms are similar to the flu.

The CDC recommends the following tips to limit exposure to ticks:

  • Avoid tick-infested areas if possible. Areas between fields or lawns and woods that have grasses or small shrubs are prime locations for ticks.
  • Wear light-colored clothing (preferably with long sleeves and pants legs), which allows you to see ticks that are crawling on your clothing.
  • Tuck your pants legs into your socks so that ticks cannot crawl up the inside of your pants legs, and tucking shirttails into your waistband so ticks can't get under your shirt.
  • Apply repellents to discourage tick attachment. Repellents containing permethrin can be sprayed on boots and clothing, and will last for several days. Repellents containing DEET can be applied to the skin, but will last only a few hours before reapplication is necessary. Always follow label directions on repellents, and use with caution on children to avoid adverse reactions.

To remove a tick:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers, and protect your fingers with a tissue, paper towel or latex gloves. Avoid removing ticks with your bare hands.
  • Grasp the tick with the tweezers as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin.
  • Wash the bite area well with soap and water. Also wash your hands.
  • Tape the tick to a white piece of paper or cardboard and write down the date of removal. If you develop symptoms, this could be important information to share with your doctor.