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Expert Warns of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Spread

Better physician awareness needed to fight this disease

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 10, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The first widespread outbreak of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Arizona underscores the need for increased physician awareness to fight this and other emerging infectious diseases.

That's the conclusion of Dr. J. Stephen Dumler, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who has published an article on the subject in the Aug. 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dumler said the Arizona outbreak of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be traced to infected ticks that were carried into the state by feral dogs.

A study of this outbreak by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appears in the same edition of the journal. The CDC study included 11 people confirmed to have the disease and five people considered probable cases. The researchers found fever-infected ticks in the patients' homes and yards; all the patients also owned and had come into contact with dogs with infected ticks.

Of the 16 patients, two were children who died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

"This study shows that Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can show up in unexpected places, and the study should put physicians on alert for the earliest signs and symptoms of the disease," said Dumler. "Our next step is to develop faster and more reliable tests to detect the disease so that physicians can more readily make a diagnosis and begin treatment as early as possible."

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a bacterial disease that is fatal in 10 percent of cases. There were more than 1,800 cases reported in the United States in 2003 and 2004.

It has been largely confined to the south central and southeastern United States, although sporadic cases have been reported in all 48 continental states, the researchers said.

"Because its first symptoms are very hard to distinguish from many other illnesses, it is often hard to diagnose unless you are looking out for it," Dumler said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, news release, Aug. 10, 2005
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