Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), also known as blue disease, is the most lethal and most frequently reported rickettsial illness in the United States. It has been diagnosed throughout the Americas. The disease is caused by Rickettsia rickettsii, a species of bacterium that is spread to humans by ‘Dermacentor’ ticks. Initial signs and symptoms of the disease include sudden onset of fever, headache, and muscle pain, followed by development of rash. The disease can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages, and without prompt and appropriate treatment it can be fatal. The epidemic has hit several Native American tribes multiple times across two reservations in Arizona leading to staggering loss of $13 million. The loss occured over a course of nine years, according to the findings of a recently published study in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
13million costs amount due to treatment costs, time off work and the loss of lifetime productivity as a result of early death. However, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Indian Health Services and the affected tribes indicated that the study’s cost estimate is likely lower than the actual cost of the epidemic as it fails to account for long-term losses as a result of disability and expensive medical procedures.
The name “Rocky Mountain spotted fever” is something of a misnomer. The disease was first identified in the Rocky Mountain region, but beginning in the 1930s, medical researchers realized that it occurred in many other areas of the United States. It is now recognized that the disease is broadly distributed throughout the contiguous United States and occurs as far north as Canada and as far south as Central America and parts of South America.
The average Rocky Mountain spotted fever induced death, which children account for more than half of, costs over $775,000.
Children account for more than half of the deaths, according to the study, caused by what CDC epidemiologist Naomi Drexler, one of the study’s authors, referred to as a “completely preventable” disease in an agency news release, Philly.com reported.
Researchers with the CDC and the Indian Health Service, those conductin the study, reviewed 205 medical records between 2002 and 2011 which focused on the two Native American tribes at the center of the epidemic and found that 80 percent of RMSF cases require emergency care, UPI reported. The study also found that seven percent of the cases were fatal.
While vaccines are not avaible yet, preventive measures include tick collars on pets and the treatment of homes and lawns to eradicate ticks. According to the study’s findings, such prevention methods together with early treatment of infections could save millions of dollars by avoiding premature death and disability.