Several Dead From Tickborne Disease in California

( – Reports of five cases in Southern California of the tick-borne disease known as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) since July 2023, three of whom died, prompted the CDC to release an official health advisory to healthcare providers and the public on December 8. The CDC warned that all of the five individuals who contracted RMSF had visited Tecate in Baja California, Mexico, before falling ill.

Brown dog ticks infected with Rickettsia rickettsii transmit the disease through their bites. Both the ticks and the pathogen are endemic to northern Mexico states, the Southwest US region, and the Eastern, Central, and Western US.

The CDC provided demographic information about the five patients who required hospitalization in California. Three of the five individuals who presented at hospitals in Southern California were US citizens, and two were Mexican citizens. Four of the five were minors. RMSF is five times more likely to kill children younger than 10 than adults.

Doxycycline remains the preferred treatment against RMSF for all ages. The CDC cautioned healthcare providers who suspected RMSF from a differential diagnosis to begin treatment immediately rather than waiting for laboratory confirmation. The agency stressed. “Early treatment with doxycycline saves lives.”

The disease can progress rapidly, and CDC statistics showed that half of those who die from the infection succumb within eight days of symptom onset. Additionally, RMSF often results in death if left untreated. The agency cited a fatality rate in Mexico exceeding 40% in untreated cases.

The CDC warned health professionals and the public to consider RMSF as a possibility if patients recently visited Mexico or other regions known for cases of the disease or if patients exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Rash, especially a macular or flat rash that appears on the back of the hands or arms and looks like petechia
  • Malaise
  • Myalgia or achiness
  • Swelling around the eyes or on the backs of the hands
  • Nausea, vomiting, or the inability to keep food down

The symptoms can progress to disorientation, coma, compromised respiratory response, necrosis, and multiorgan systemic damage leading to death.

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