First common in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States in the 1940s, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a serious microbial illness caused by the bite of a tick that primarily inhabits the southern Atlantic states—North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland—as well as Oklahoma.

More than 90 percent of the cases occur between April 1 and September 30, the time of year when the ticks are most active. The illness can last two to three weeks.

Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

  • Severe headache
  • Chills, with high fever that often reaches 103 degrees to 105 degrees F (39 degrees to 40 degrees C) and can stay elevated for weeks if untreated
  • A pink rash that appears within two to six days of the fever, typically on the wrist and ankles, and spreads to the rest of the body and the face within 24 hours. This rash is one of the few that appear on the palms and the soles of the feet. (About 10 percent of patients never get the rash.)
  • Eyes become reddish
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and abdominal pain
  • Poor appetite
  • Muscle aches and tenderness
  • Heightened sensitivity to light

What Causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

The bite of an adult dog tick or wood tick infected with the organism R. rickettsii is the primary cause of the illness. The organism invades and multiplies in the cells lining the arteries and veins throughout the body.

What If You Do Nothing?

If left untreated, mild cases of RMSF may disappear within two weeks. Severe cases require medical attention and usually hospitalization, since the illness can result in heart failure, pneumonia, kidney problems, and other serious complications. Between 20 and 30 percent of the cases of RMSF end up being fatal if untreated. Most of those who die are elderly.

Home Remedies for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

There are no home remedies for RMSF, which should be diagnosed and treated by a physician.


  • Minimize contact. Stay out of tick-infested terrain, typically mountainous, heavily wooded, or sagebrush areas.
  • Protect yourself. If you are in known tick areas, wear protective clothing and use insect repellent on exposed skin and clothing.
  • Look for ticks. Once you arrive home, inspect your body for ticks.
  • Avoid tick-infested areas such as shrubs, woods, tall grasses, brush and areas with low tree branches.
  • Remove any ticks. Use tweezers to pull or pinch off any tick attached to your skin; if you must use your fingers to touch the tick, cover them with tissue.
  • Wash thoroughly. Wash the area of the bite with soap and water or an antiseptic.

Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor

Contact your physician for diagnosis and treatment if you develop telltale symptoms.

What Your Doctor Will Do

After diagnosing the condition, your physician will begin antibiotic drug therapy.


The Complete Home Wellness Handbook

John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 09 Nov 2011

Last Modified: 24 Feb 2015