Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an agency of the U.S. government, works with state and local health departments to track, treat and prevent potentially fatal Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

An important update on Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was recently released by MedScape in collaboration with Casey Barton Behravesh MS, DVM, DrPH, DACVPM, who is Chief of the Epidemiology Activity in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Division of Vector-borne Diseases within the CDC. Since RMSF has nonspecific symptoms early on in the illness, and can be fatal if not properly treated with doxycycline, they evaluated the safety of doxycycline in children. The new research shows that it is safe to use short courses of doxycycline in children at any age, without risk of tooth staining, and is "first line care for the treatment of suspected rickettsial infections at any ages". Here is an excerpt of the release from the CDC with accompanying scientific references:
"I'm Dr Casey Barton Behravesh, with the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I am here to discuss Rocky Mountain spotted fever(RMSF) and the new research on doxycycline showing that it is safe to use in children at any age. First, let's review some clinical characteristics of this serious disease. RMSF is caused by Rickettsia rickettsii, an intracellular bacterium transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Early manifestations, within the first 4 days of illness, are typically nonspecific, with such symptoms as fever, headache, myalgia, and gastrointestinal illness. However, RMSF progresses rapidly to severe illness. Around 2-5 days after illness onset, a macular rash may develop on the wrists and ankles before spreading centrally. After day 5, illness severity increases dramatically with the development of late-stage petechial rash as well as hypotension and respiratory distress. Permanent, life-altering sequelae may result from vascular damage during acute illness, leading to neurologic deficits (such as hearing loss, paralysis, and encephalopathy) and the need to amputate extremities. Owing to the rapid progression of this disease, empiric treatment with doxycycline, the frontline drug for treatment of RMSF, is critical for anyone at any age and should be initiated in patients with suspected RMSF before laboratory diagnosis is obtained. Delay of doxycycline treatment past day 5 of illness is associated with increased risk for hospitalization and death. Death can occur rapidly in patients who do not receive appropriate treatment. The average time from onset of symptoms to death is only 8 days. Between 2008 and 2012 in the United States, 13,635 cases of RMSF were reported.[1] About 6% of cases were among children younger than 10 years of age; however, this same age group represented almost one quarter of all deaths. Children younger than 10 years are five times as likely to die from RMSF compared with any other age group. Therefore, we looked at data from a 2012 national survey of clinicians on prescribing practices for suspected RMSF. We found that 80% of responding clinicians correctly selected doxycycline as the treatment of choice for suspected RMSF in patients aged 8 years or older; however, only 35% correctly chose doxycycline as the treatment of choice for suspected RMSF in children younger than 8 years of age.[2] This points to a concerning gap in the treatment of pediatric RMSF. We suspect that one reason for the hesitation to prescribe doxycycline to pediatric patients is the warning about dental staining on all tetracycline-class antibiotics. Doxycycline, a newer tetracycline antibiotic, binds less readily to calcium during tooth development and has not been shown to cause tooth discoloration. Confidence in an antibiotic's safety is essential in clinicians' prescribing practices, so CDC scientists conducted a study to evaluate the potential for tooth staining in pediatric RMSF patients treated with doxycycline. In 2013, the CDC conducted a retrospective review of children in a community with high rates of RMSF.[3] We compared children who had received doxycycline before the age of 8 years in the treatment of suspected RMSF with children who had never received doxycycline. Licensed dentists, blinded to exposure status, performed quantitative and qualitative evaluations of tooth color and enamel hypoplasia. The study showed no evidence of subjective tetracycline-like staining, no difference in the rate of enamel defects, and no difference in tooth shade between the children who had received doxycycline and those who had not. This study provides the best evidence to date that short courses of doxycycline do not cause dental staining when given to children under the age of 8 years. Doxycycline is the first-line therapy for the treatment of suspected rickettsial infections in patients of all ages, recommended by the CDC as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).[4] The current label allows for the use of doxycycline in pediatric patients with RMSF because other antibiotics are not likely to be effective for treatment. However, clearer language on the drug label is needed to avoid hesitation in prescribing life-saving doxycycline to children and to reinforce CDC and AAP recommendations for the treatment of RMSF. Despite the current label warning, it is important for healthcare providers to know that doxycycline has not been shown to cause tooth staining in the dose and duration used to treat rickettsial diseases. Early administration of doxycycline in adults and children can prevent severe illness and save lives".
1. Adams DA, Jajosky RA, Ajani U, et al; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Summary of notifiable Diseases--United States, 2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014;61:1-121. Abstract
2. Zientek J, Dahlgren FS, McQuiston JH, Regan J. Self-reported treatment practices by healthcare providers could lead to death from Rocky Mountain spotted fever. 2014;164:416-418.
3. Todd S, Dahlgren F, Traeger M, et al. No evidence of tooth staining following doxycycline administration in children for treatment of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. J Pediatr. 2015;166:1246-1251. Abstract
4. Committee on Infectious Diseases; American Academy of Pediatrics, Pickering L, Baker C, Kimberlin D, Long S. Red Book: 2012 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. Elk Grove Village, IL; American Academy of Pediatrics; 2012: 620-625
More information on RMSF can be found on the CDC web site: