Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most serious tickborne disease in the US. AZ has recorded 38 cases so far this year compared to 17 in all of 2010. Most of the cases are in the eastern part of the state. The disease’s symptoms include a nasty “spotted” rash that usually starts 2-5 days after a fever starts. Early antibiotic treatment is critical, because untreated and late treated cases are often fatal. Doctors need to use symptoms to diagnose it because lab testing usually doesn’t detect the disease in time.
We first noticed an increase in Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases in Arizona In 2002 when we did a study that found that the brown dog tick carried the germ in Arizona- a different kind of tick from the rest of the country. We’ll probably never know how Rocky Mountain spotted fever got into the ticks and dogs of Arizona, but we know it’s going to be here for awhile. Because of our mild winters and because brown dog ticks feed on dogs- the disease is spread year round. There’s the potential for spread to other areas of Arizona because the tick is common and the disease can be carried by coyotes and dogs.
Luckily it’s easy to protect yourself, your family and your pets. Dogs in rural and eastern AZ should always wear a fresh tick collar. Pets (and people) should be checked for ticks after being in rural or wilderness areas- and tick control around homes can also help protect people and pets. If ticks are found, they should be removed carefully with tweezers, pulling straight up to remove the mouth parts. Weeds and grass should also be trimmed and any debris should be regularly removed to get rid of tick habitats.