Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever causes first fatality in Wisconsin

Published: Jul. 11, 2018 at 5:25 PM CDT
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It is a rarely reported disease in Wisconsin.

Now for the first time in the state, a death has come at the hands of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

"We had a woman in her late 50s who passed away from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. She and her family had been camping in the western part of Wisconsin. One of the last known places that she and her family had been camping in several different areas was here in La Crosse County," said La Crosse County Public Health Nurse Jo Foellmi.

Foellmi says RMSF can be life-threatening but treatable.

She says doctors told the woman they thought it was just a virus and to come back if symptoms got worse.

She passed away roughly a week after that visit.

RMSF is carried by an American Wood/Dog tick, one of three kinds of ticks in Wisconsin.

"There's no way to tell the difference between a regular tick bite and a tick that's carrying Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. All tick bites should be treated the same," said Foellmi.

Health officials say RMSF is most commonly found south of Wisconsin, in states such as Kansas and Missouri.

They add they are not certain why the disease is popping up in Wisconsin.

"This is probably the first case, even of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, that we've had in several years," said Foellmi.

But they do not anticipate many more deaths.

"I don't know that we're necessarily going to really be looking for it or that we'll all the sudden have a huge number of cases of it. We're hoping that this is a fairly isolated incident," said Foellmi.

Foellmi suggests using insect repellent, avoiding tall grass and brush and wearing long sleeves and pants when possible, just to be safe.

According to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health there were 23 cases of RMSF reported around the state in 2017, the highest number this decade.