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Wisconsin Woman Dies From Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, A Tick-Borne Disease

Jul 13, 2018 09:09 PM EDT
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Ticks are annoying, but they're also extremely dangerous, carrying a host of potentially fatal diseases, including the Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

In Wisconsin, a woman died of the bacterial disease last June, the first ever documented death from RMSF in the state.

Tick Causes Death

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirmed the death on their website last Tuesday, July 10.

"We are saddened to learn of this death and encourage Wisconsin residents to take steps to protect themselves and their families from tick bites while enjoying the outdoors," Karen McKeown, State Health Officer, says in a statement.

The deceased woman contracted the bacterial disease after getting bitten by a tick while she was camping, public health nurse at La Crosse County Jo Foellmi tells Duluth News Tribune.

RMSF In Wisconsin

RMSF is rare in Wisconsin, but not impossible, especially with the presence of American dog ticks, also known as wood ticks. These types of ticks are partial to cooler weather, so it's important to be extra cautious during spring, fall, and early summer.

A tick surveillance team scoured the camping site of the deceased woman, but found no RMSF-carrying ticks. However, they are planning to check again when the weather cools.

Lyric Bartholomay, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, assures that dog ticks are usually large enough to spot and simply pull off.

"And because (Rocky Mountain spotted fever) is so rare in Wisconsin it's unlikely you would encounter one of those ticks that is infected and that it would stay on the skin long enough to transmit the pathogen," Bartholomay adds in Duluth News Tribune.

The RMSF may not be common in Wisconsin, but the state recorded an all-time high of 4,299 cases of Lyme disease in 2017. Lyme disease is caused by bites from black-legged ticks, also known as deer tick.

More About RMSF

The dreaded Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a bacterial disease that's transmitted through a bite of an infected tick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's caused by the spotted fever group rickettsia, a type of bacteria.

Early symptoms include a fever, headache, and rash, which are not exclusive to RMSF. Unfortunately, the disease can quickly turn life-threatening, especially without early treatment.

The best way of preventing RMSF is by avoiding tick bites. State health experts recommend using insect repellent on the skin and permethrin on the clothes. Wearing long clothing and avoiding tall bushes are also helpful, as well as thoroughly checking the entire body for ticks upon getting home. Vet-approved tick prevention treatments are also available for pets.

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