Health

Nurse: Woman who died from Rocky Mountain spotted fever bit while camping in western Wisconsin

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MADISON, Wis. – A La Crosse woman has died of a disease that's considered rare in the Midwest, health officials said. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the La Crosse County Health Department said Tuesday that the death is the first documented from Rocky Mountain spotted fever in Wisconsin.

Jo Foellimi, a La Crosse County public health nurse, says the woman was bit while camping in western Wisconsin in early May.

The woman was diagnosed with RMSF in mid-June and died days later. Foellimi says the woman was in her late 50s but declined to identify her.

RMSF most commonly occurs in the central and southeastern regions of the United States, according to a news release. Most tickborne diseases transmitted in Wisconsin are spread by the blacklegged (or deer) tick. RMSF, however, is spread by the bite of the American dog (or wood) tick.

Early symptoms of RMSF can be mild and typically include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, rash and stomach pain, DHS said. If left untreated, an RMSF infection can rapidly develop into a serious illness.

DHS encouraged Wisconsin residents to take the following steps to protect themselves and their families from tick bites while enjoying the outdoors:

  • Use an insect repellent with at least 20-percent DEET or another EPA-registered repellent according to the label instructions.
  • Use 0.5-percent permethrin products on clothing, socks and shoes according to label instructions.
  • Stay on trails and avoid walking through tall grasses and brush.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants to avoid ticks crawling under clothing.
  • Check your entire body for ticks after being outdoors.
  • Take a shower as soon as possible after coming in from outdoors.
  • Place clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks on clothing.
  • Use a veterinarian-prescribed tick prevention treatment on pets.

DHS said that of the illnesses spread by ticks in Wisconsin, Lyme disease is the most common, but ticks can also spread anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and, more rarely, RMSF and Powassan virus.

Many people who contract a tickborne disease do not recall a tick bite, so it's also important to be aware of the common symptoms of tickborne disease, such as fever, rash, headache, body aches and fatigue.

Most diseases spread by ticks in Wisconsin can be effectively treated with antibiotics, making early diagnosis critical, health officials said. If symptoms develop after a tick bite or after possible tick exposure, see a health care provider.

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