La Crosse County woman dies from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

A La Crosse County resident has died due to a disease spread from a tick bite.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and La Crosse County Health Department said that it is the first documented death from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) in the state. 

The victim was identified as a La Crosse County woman in her 50s according to the La Crosse County Health Department. Jo Foellimi, a La Crosse County public health nurse, says the woman was bit while camping in western Wisconsin in early May. The woman was diagnosed with RMSF in mid-June and died days later.

The disease is rare in the state according to health officials.  DHS said that it is spread by the bite of an American dog (or wood) tick. They said early symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, rash, and stomach pain. 

Untreated, an infection from RMSF can quickly develop into a serious illness.

DHS recommends that people take steps to protect themselves from ticks including: 

  • Use an insect repellent with at least 20% DEET or another EPA-registered repellent according to the label instructions.
  • Use 0.5% permethrin products on clothing, socks, and shoes according to label instructions.
  • Stay on trails and avoid walking through tall grasses and brush.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants to avoid ticks crawling under clothing.
  • Check your entire body for ticks after being outdoors.
  • Take a shower as soon as possible after coming in from outdoors.
  • Place clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks on clothing.
  • Use a veterinarian-prescribed tick prevention treatment on pets.

Lyme disease is the most common type of disease spread by ticks in Wisconsin according to DHS. Others include anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Powassan virus. 

DHS said that most diseases spread by ticks can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. People are urged to see a health professional if symptoms develop after a tick bite or possible tick exposure. 

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