In an extreme case, a 40-year-old Oklahoma woman recently had parts of all four limbs amputated due to a life-threatening infection she contracted from a tick bite over Fourth of July weekend.
Jo Rogers, a mom of two from Shawnee, was treated for complications of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), a tick-borne illness she likely contracted on a hiking trip.
"When we came back, she started feeling sick, and she thought she might have the flu," her husband, Keith Rogers, told ABC News on Friday. She then developed a fever and became increasingly dizzy and nauseous.
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About a week after the hike, he took Jo to the emergency room where they tested her for a variety of viruses and infections, including meningitis and West Nile Virus. But they weren't able to diagnose her with RMSF until her symptoms took a turn for the worse, her husband said. "After things started going bad and she went into septic shock, the blood flow cut off to her limbs, and her hands and feet started going black."
The doctors had to amputate her right leg at mid-thigh, her left leg below the knee, and both of her arms mid-forearm, Keith told ABC News.
Her cousin Lisa Morgan created a GoFundMe page to help raise money to fund Jo’s medical bills and future needs. The family has raised more than $50,000 so far. “She’s a beautiful, energetic fun person,” Morgan told CNN affiliate KOCO. “Nobody deserves this.”
The Facts About Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
While such severe complications are rare, RMSF is not unheard of, especially during the summer months, says Thomas Mather, PhD, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and the TickEncounter Resource Center.
“The agent that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a bacteria known as Rickettsia rickettsii. It is typically transmitted by American dog ticks and Rocky Mountain wood ticks, then it infects cells and then it grows and then it gets worse,” Mather told Health, adding that Oklahoma and Arkansas are hot spots for RMSF.
Those two states, plus North Carolina, Tennessee, and Missouri account for more than 60% of RMSF cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, abdominal cramps, aches, and later on in the infection, a spotted, red rash typically around the hands and ankles.
If you start to feel sick after a trip outdoors during peak season—or you find a tick—the key is to get help fast. Delaying treatment can increase risk for serious complications and even death, reports the CDC.
“A tick expert service, like TickEncounter, or a doctor, needs to help you identify both the tick and the possible pathogens associated with the type within that particular geographic location,” Mather says. So bring the tick with you to the doctor in a plastic baggy if you find one.
That's because there are in fact seven abundant tick species across the United States, and they don’t all transmit the same bacteria or live in the same ecosystems from state to state, complicating things. Example: The blacklegged tick common to the Northeast can transmit Lyme disease, but not RMSF. Once the tick and an infection have been identified, your doctor can treat you with antibiotics.
It's also a good idea to do your best to keep ticks away: Wear light-colored clothes, long sleeves, and tuck your pants into a high pair of socks. “It’s a practice that never really took off fashion-wise, but it’s a no-brainer,” Mather says. You can also apply the repellant permethrin—which is sold in sprays or solutions you can soak your clothes in—to your garments to repel ticks.