As hotter temperatures draw Arizonans to the state’s high country, Department of Health Services Director Catherine Eden advised residents to take precautions against tick bites because some ticks carry germs that cause disease, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
“Arizonans should take measures to reduce their exposure to ticks when they go hiking or camping in our beautiful outdoors,” Eden said. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can occur in the forested mountain areas of Northern, Central and Eastern Arizona.
The best way to prevent exposure is to avoid areas where ticks live, such as trail margins, brushy and grassy areas, and leaf litter in forests with oak and other hardwood trees. Stay on trails and avoid contact with logs, tree trunks and fallen branches or tree limbs in forests.
Four cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever have been reported in the White Mountains region of Arizona during the last three years, including two cases recently confirmed in 2004.
All four cases involved children. One case in 2003 was fatal. Children are more commonly infected due to their propensity to play in wooded areas.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases are rare in Arizona, so these numbers are unusual. The state averages about one case every three years.
Symptoms, which usually begin 3 to 14 days after a bite by an infected tick, include moderate to high fever, severe headache, nausea or vomiting and muscle pain. In approximately 85 percent of cases, a rash appears about three days after onset of illness. People experiencing any of these symptoms within two weeks of a possible tick bite should see a doctor immediately. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be cured with specific antibiotics if treated early.
The main vector (transmitter) of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the west is the Rocky Mountain wood tick, which may be encountered in spring and summer months. The tick must be attached and feeding for several hours for disease transmission to occur.
Check yourself and children after recreating in wooded areas, and remove ticks promptly and properly.
The proper way to remove ticks is:
- Use tweezers to grasp ticks by mouth parts as close to skin as possible and pull back gently. Or, use your finger nails covered w/ tissue paper. Avoid squeezing the body of the tick, if possible.
- Immediately wash the bite site with soap and water.
- Save the tick for identification. State health officials can identify the tick to determine if it is a species that may transmit disease.
- Preserve tick(s) in 70% alcohol and send to:
Arizona Department of Health Services
Vector-Borne Diseases Program
150 North 18th Avenue, Suite 140
Phoenix, Arizona 85007