Health Watch -- Tick-borne Disease

Health Watch is a Public Service of the   Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

A supposedly rare tick-borne disease may be more common than we thought.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is very rare - with just a couple of cases reported every year per million Americans. But now researchers at the University of Louisville in Kentucky say the disease may be more common than we thought. The researchers tested the blood of hundreds of children from the Southeastern and South Central United States - where ticks that carry the disease are more common. They found that more people than they expected showed signs of having been infected in the past. In some areas, up to 22 percent of the children and adolescents had been infected with the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

It's likely that these infections were so minor that they were never reported to a doctor, or that a doctor didn't diagnose the infection as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. With infections like this, there are some people who never show any symptoms. On the other hand, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever kills 3 to 5 percent of the people it infects. The researchers say doctors should keep the possibility of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in mind when they see sick children.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say you can help protect yourself and your family from this disease by taking precautions when going outdoors in areas where there may be ticks. Wear long long-sleeve shirts and pants tucked into socks or boots. When you get back indoors, check for ticks all over your body, including your scalp and ears. Call your doctor if you notice fever, chills or a rash.