A new study has looked at the cost associated with the epidemic of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) that struck several American Indians in Arizona between 2002 and 2014 and which affected over 300 and killed 20 individuals.

It revealed that for a period of nine years, the illness has led to more than $13 million in societal costs with the amount covering treatment, loss of productivity because of death and time off from work.

Researchers from the Indian Health Services, the affected tribes and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention though said that the figures likely underestimated the epidemic's actual cost as these did not include the long term losses due to disability and medical procedures.

"This RMSF epidemic largely affects children and young adults who were previously healthy, who would otherwise have the most potential to contribute economically to society," the researchers reported in their study published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

RMSF is caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, which is transmitted when a person is bitten by an infected tick. The disease starts with non-specific symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache and sometimes rash.

Patients who become severely ill may be required to have their fingers, limbs or toes amputated because of blood loss. They may also need lung and heart specialty care as well as management in intensive care units.

The disease is potentially fatal with over 20 percent of untreated cases leading to death. Death often occurs in only eight days from the start of the symptoms.

Despite the severity of the disease, RMSF is actually preventable. While no vaccine is yet available available to prevent RMSF yet, there are ways that can help prevent the disease.

Researchers said that treating homes and placing tick collars on pets are known as the best ways for preventing RMSF. For those who already contracted the disease, treating them with the antibiotic doxycycline early enough could also be effective.

"State, federal and tribal health authorities have been working together since the start of the epidemic to build effective community-based tick control programs," said CDC epidemiologist Naomi Drexler, author of the study. "These programs are costly, but medical expenses and lives lost cost four times more than RMSF prevention efforts. Increasing access to these prevention efforts is critical to save lives and protect communities."

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