Michael F. Easley

The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina Carmen Hooker Odom

North Carolina
Department of Health and Human Services

For Release: IMMEDIATE
Date: August 14, 2007

  Contact: Debbie Crane

CDC Confirms NC Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Death

RALEIGH – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that a Guilford County woman’s death was the result of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). Public health officials say that deaths from the disease are rare, but the case highlights the need for preventing tick bites.

“This is a serious illness, but it can be largely prevented by limiting exposure to tick bites,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Engel. “North Carolina and Oklahoma account for the most cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the country, so we need to be particularly vigilant here.”

The 61-year-old woman died in May. At the time, her attending physicians diagnosed RMSF as the cause of death. A skin rash biopsy was submitted to CDC for confirmation, and the CDC recently confirmed that RMSF was the cause. It isn’t unusual for there to be a significant lag time between the RMSF death and the official lab confirmation.

The last North Carolina Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever death occurred in 2005. There were 862 cases in North Carolina last year – 261 cases have been reported this year.

According to the CDC, key symptoms are fever, muscle pain, headache and rash. The majority of patients are hospitalized.

You can limit your exposure to ticks by:

  • Wearing light-colored clothing, which allows you to see ticks that are crawling on your clothing.
  • Tucking your pants legs into your socks so that ticks cannot crawl up the inside of your pants legs.
  • Applying repellents to discourage tick attachment. Repellents containing permethrin can be sprayed on boots and clothing, and will last for several days. Repellents containing DEET can be applied to the skin, but will last only a few hours before reapplication is necessary. Use DEET with caution on children. Application of large amounts of DEET on children has been associated with adverse reactions.
  • Conducting a body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas by searching your entire body for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Remove any tick you find on your body.
  • Checking children for ticks, especially in the hair, when returning from potentially tick-infested areas. Ticks may also be carried into the household on clothing and pets and only attach later, so both should be examined carefully to exclude ticks.

If you are bitten by a tick, quick removal of the tick reduces the chance of infection. To remove a tick:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers, and protect your fingers with a tissue, paper towel, or latex gloves. Avoid removing ticks with your bare hands.
  • Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin.
  • Wash area with soap and water. Also wash your hands.
  • Note date of removal. If you develop symptoms, this could be important information to share with your doctor.
  • Tape the tick to a white card, so if you become sick later the species of tick can be identified.


Public Affairs Office
101 Blair Drive, Raleigh, NC 27603
FAX (919)733-7447

Debbie Crane