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World’s Deadliest Tick-Borne Disease Kills Woman In Wisconsin

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Wisconsin sees its first ever death caused by the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or RMSF, the world's deadliest disease caused by a single tick bite.

More than 60 percent of RMSF cases were reported in North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri.

A woman in her late 50s became the first ever case of RMSF death reported in Wisconsin. She had been camping with her family in the western part of the state. Health officials suspected a tick bit her while she was out in the woods.

RMSF can be deadly even to healthier individuals. Death can happen as fast as within eight days after symptoms started. Those who recovered from the disease may be left with a life-changing condition such as amputated limbs, hearing loss, paralysis, or mental disability.

Most tick-borne diseases can be immediately treated with antibiotics. The problem is many people who got sick from tick bites were unaware that they were bitten.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are only about 6 in 10 people who got RMSF remembered being bitten by a tick.

First RMSF Death In Wisconsin

Jo Foellmi, a public health nurse, said the woman's last known location was in La Crosse County. She said doctors who first examined the woman thought that the patient merely contracted a virus. The patient was just told to come back if the symptoms persist. The woman, however, died about a week after her visit to the doctors.

The American Wood/Dog tick is the carrier of RMSF. The Wisconsin Division of Public Health said there were only about 23 cases of RMSF around the state in 2017, but the cases have been the highest record for a decade.

Most of the tick-borne diseases in the region were spread by the black-legged tick. However, there are no signs to differentiate one tick bite from another.

"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," Foellmi said.

RMSF Treatment And Prevention

CDC recommends doxycycline for treatment of RMSF. The center highlighted that treatment should be applied in the first five days to assure recovery from RMSF. Delayed intervention may result in more severe illness that may require intensive care.

There is no vaccine to prevent RMSF, and the only effective avoidance will be preventing ticks altogether.

Ticks naturally like grass, brushy, and wooded areas. They prefer moist and humid environments. They can live on animals too. Hence, CDC highlighted that camping, gardening, and hunting can expose humans to ticks.

When going outdoors, it is highly advisable to use insect repellents that are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Treating clothing or camping gears with permethrin may also help avoid tick bites. Having pets treated for ticks is also necessary.

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