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Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

It is possible that the main title of the report Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.


  • Tickborne Typhus Fever
  • RMSF
  • Sao Paulo Typhus

Disorder Subdivisions

  • Fulminant Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

General Discussion

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is an infectious disease that belongs to a group of diseases known as the spotted fever group rickettsioses. It is caused by infection with the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii (R. rickettsii), which is usually transmitted by a tick bite. When introduced into the body, the bacterium spreads by the bloodstream or lymphatic vessels and multiplies within and damages certain cells lining the inside of small blood (vascular) vessels (i.e., endothelial cells) as well as vascular smooth muscle cells. Such damage leads to inflammatory changes of affected blood vessels (vasculitis), leakage of fluid from the blood vessels, an abnormal accumulation of fluid in body tissues (edema), and additional abnormalities, resulting in the symptoms and findings associated with the disease.

Approximately two to 14 days after initial infection, early symptoms may include a high fever, severe headaches, muscle pain (myalgia), nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite (anorexia), abdominal pain, and/or features. In addition, in most individuals with RMSF, a distinctive rash develops about three to five days after fever onset. The rash often initially appears on the skin of the wrists and ankles and spreads to involve the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the forearms, the trunk, the buttocks, and the neck and facial areas. The rash typically initially consists of small, flat pinkish spots (macules) that eventually become raised (papules) and darker. The lesions usually develop "pin-point" reddish spots (petechia) due to localized bleeding (hemorrhaging) and may merge to form larger hemorrhagic patches. In some severe cases, insufficient oxygenated blood supply to certain tissues may lead to areas of tissue loss (necrosis).

R. rickettsii infection may affect blood vessels, tissues, and organs throughout the body, including the lungs, brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), heart, liver, and kidneys. Associated symptoms and findings may vary, depending upon the specific tissues and organs affected. Without timely, appropriate treatment, individuals with severe disease may develop potentially life-threatening complications due to tissue and organ injury and dysfunction.

As its name indicates, the disease was originally recognized in the Rocky Mountain states. It has since been reported throughout the continental United States as well as Mexico, Canada, Central America, and South America. As noted above, in most cases, infection with the R. rickettsii bacterium results from tick bites. Several different types of ticks serve as "vectors" for the disease, transmitting the R. rickettsii bacterium to humans.


Lyme Disease Foundation
P.O. Box 332
Tolland, CT 06084-0332

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30333
Tel: (404)639-3534
Tel: (800)232-4636
TDD: (888)232-6348

NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Office of Communications and Government Relations
6610 Rockledge Drive, MSC 6612
Bethesda, MD 20892-6612
Tel: (301)496-5717
Fax: (301)402-3573
Tel: (866)284-4107
TDD: (800)877-8339

World Health Organization (WHO)
Avenue Appia 20
Geneva 27, 1211
Tel: 41227912111
Fax: 41227913111

Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center
PO Box 8126
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126
Tel: (301)251-4925
Fax: (301)251-4911
Tel: (888)205-2311
TDD: (888)205-3223

For a Complete Report:

This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). A copy of the complete report can be downloaded free from the NORD website for registered users. The complete report contains additional information including symptoms, causes, affected population, related disorders, standard and investigational therapies (if available), and references from medical literature. For a full-text version of this topic, go to and click on Rare Disease Database under "Rare Disease Information".

The information provided in this report is not intended for diagnostic purposes. It is provided for informational purposes only. NORD recommends that affected individuals seek the advice or counsel of their own personal physicians.

It is possible that the title of this topic is not the name you selected. Please check the Synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and Disorder Subdivision(s) covered by this report

This disease entry is based upon medical information available through the date at the end of the topic. Since NORD's resources are limited, it is not possible to keep every entry in the Rare Disease Database completely current and accurate. Please check with the agencies listed in the Resources section for the most current information about this disorder.

For additional information and assistance about rare disorders, please contact the National Organization for Rare Disorders at P.O. Box 1968, Danbury, CT 06813-1968; phone (203) 744-0100; web site or email

Last Updated: 4/8/2009
Copyright 1989, 1998, 2001, 2009 National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Organization for Rare Disorders

Last Updated: May 28, 2015
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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