Beware of Tick Bites

Avoid tick fever this summer.

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    Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most dangerous and widespread strain of tick-spread disease.

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Ticks! You know the eight-legged, tough-shelled little bloodsuckers I'm talking about. With teeth so sharp you don't feel their bite, they secretly attach themselves to you and your animals and hang on as if they'll never let go. When you discover one and pull it off, you wind up extracting as much skin as tick, and you're stuck with a varmint that's all but impossible to destroy.

Ah, but did you know that, besides giving you nasty tick bites to remember them by, some species can also leave you with an unpleasant or even fatal infectious disease? The most prevalent strains of tick-spread disease are Colorado tick fever, relapsing fever, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). Of the three, RMSF is not only the most dangerous but also the most widespread. Since the initial symptoms of all three are fairly similar, if you have been bitten by a tick and show any signs of tick fever you should seek a doctor's help immediately, on the chance that you might have RMSF. Still, to keep things straight, here's a brief description of each strain, including its characteristics and range.

Colorado tick fever is the most common strain of tick-related illness in the western half of the United States. Cases have been reported in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Washington, and Wyoming. Symptoms usually occur three to seven days after a tick bite and consist of high fever (up to 105°F), followed by headache, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and oversensitivity to light. After about five days, the fever and other symptoms will start to subside, only to return in about a week. However, permanent recovery from this strain of tick fever almost always occurs without complications. And once a person's had it, he or she tends to build up a resistance to further attacks.

Relapsing fever, like Colorado fever, occurs mostly in the West. Its symptoms, which appear about a week after a tick bite, include high fever (during which the patient may become delirious), headaches, nausea, vomiting, and joint and muscle pain. Some victims will develop a dark red rash all over their bodies; others will become jaundiced, indicating liver involvement. Symptoms usually subside within about ten days but, as the name suggests, recur for another bout after a week.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever occurs in virtually all states. With an incubation period averaging seven days, RMSF is characterized by high fever (104 to 107°F), severe headaches, spinal and muscle stiffness, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. After about the fifth day, tiny pink dots will appear around wrists and ankles, and eventually this rash will spread all over the body. If the fever remains high for seven to ten days and the symptoms are left untreated, the nervous system will become involved, and death can result. Even with treatment the disease can take several weeks or months to run its course.

Treatment for Tick Fever

At this time there is no vaccine specifically designed to fight tick fever, but several antibiotics have proven effective in treating it. So at the first signs of the illness, the infected person should be taken to a doctor. If you can't get an afflicted individual to a physician right away—say, if you're on a wilderness backpacking expedition—here are some things you can do to help in the meantime. 

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