Ole Miss student Dylan Thomason found two ticks on his body after a night of camping with his friends. They slept in Eno hammocks outside, had a campfire and went hiking. He did not find the ticks until he got home from the trip.
Thomason said he developed symptoms two days after finding the ticks.
“I first noticed I had a swollen lymph node close to area I found the ticks,” Thomason said. “Then my right leg had a lot of muscle soreness, and I felt like I had pulled a hamstring.
Later Thomason, was diagnosed with Rocky Mountain spotted fever: an infectious disease that is carried by the American dog tick.
“Luckily, I caught it early enough so I didn’t develop a rash or a fever yet,” Thomason said.
Thomason said he went to the doctor’s office and his doctor immediately knew it was Rocky Mountain spotted fever. His blood work was sent off for testing and it came back as a low positive for Rocky Mountain spotted fever and negative for lyme disease.
“I had never even heard of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever until I had it,” Thomason said.
He got put on doxycycline, an antibiotic, for 10 days.
“They were super strong and made me really nauseous,” said Thomason. “I had to take a pill twice a day with food and I couldn’t lay down for about 30 minutes after I took it.”
“Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be difficult to diagnose,” said Dr. Travis W. Yates, the Director at University Health Services at the University of Mississippi . “Three to 10 days after finding a tick bite people usually start to develop flu like symptoms. That is the best way to describe it, a flu like illness.”
The symptoms include a fever, headache, body aches, joint aches and some people get nausea, said Yates. The symptoms are always followed by a rash. The rash is characteristic; it involves the wrists and ankles and spreads to the palms of the hands.
The problem is when you first come in and say you are sick, you don’t have that rash and the blood tests do not always come back immediately positive for it either, so it is hard to get an immediate diagnosis, said Yates.
There is no vaccine to prevent Rocky Mountain spotted fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The only way to prevent the disease is to limit your contact with ticks and know where to expect them. Ticks live in grassy, wooded areas and sometimes on animals. A preventative measure is to apply products containing permethrin to your clothing and gear.
Diagnoses of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are generally increasing every year. Mississippi falls in the category of the highest incidence rates in the United States, ranging from 6.6 to 278 cases per million persons, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although Mississippi falls in the highest category, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma account for over 60 percent of diagnoses.
“I am constantly checking myself for ticks after hearing about a couple people getting Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” said Ole Miss student, Jordan Knight. “In my mind, I feel like every tick carries the disease.”
“Just because you get a tick bite does not mean you have to treat yourself,” said Yates. “A tick bite does not equal a doctor visit. A tick bite followed by symptoms, however, would absolutely be advisable to see a physician.”