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Spotted Fever

Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis, also known as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), is a disease caused by the bite of an American Dog (Wood) Tick. After a tick bite, the bacteria enter the human body and infect the cells lining blood vessels, leading to widespread inflammation and damage. The signs and symptoms of spotted fever rickettsiosis can vary depending on the specific bacteria, as well as individual factors such as the person's immune response. In Alabama, cases happen more between March and October when ticks are active.


Early signs and symptoms are not specific to RMSF (including fever and headache). The first symptoms of RMSF are typically fever and severe headache which begin about 5 days after the bite of an infected tick; however, symptoms may appear anywhere between 2 and 14 days. This disease can rapidly progress to a serious and life-threatening illness. See your healthcare provider if you become ill after having been bitten by a tick or having been in the woods or in areas with high brushes where ticks commonly live.

Other possible symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash (occurs 2-5 days after fever, but may be absent in some cases)
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Lack of appetite


Early recognition and treatment of spotted fever rickettsiosis is crucial to prevent complications. If you suspect you have been exposed to ticks or are experiencing symptoms consistent with the disease, it is important to seek medical attention promptly. RMSF can be life-threatening. Early treatment with the antibiotic doxycycline can prevent death and severe illness. Doxycycline is the recommended antibiotic treatment for RMSF in adults and children of all ages.


Prevention begins with you! Limiting exposure to ticks is the most effective method of prevention of tick-transmitted diseases. In persons exposed to tick-infested habitats, prompt, careful inspection, and removal of crawling or attached ticks is an important method of preventing disease. It may take several hours of attachment before the organisms are transmitted from the tick to the host.


Page last updated: November 20, 2023