ATLANTA, June 19 (UPI) -- Basic tick bite prevention techniques could significantly lower the number of patients diagnosed with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or RMSF, according to a new study of the mounting costs associated with the disease among several American Indian tribes in Arizona.
The average cost per RMSF-related death is nearly five times that of pneumococcal disease in the United Sates, helping to result in over $13 million in in economic losses during the more than decade-long epidemic.
"Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is completely preventable," said Naomi Drexler, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a press release. "State, federal and tribal health authorities have been working together since the start of the epidemic to build effective community-based tick control programs, and these efforts have produced remarkable reductions in human cases."
Researchers with CDC and the Indian Health Service reviewed 205 medical records from between 2002 and 2011 from two Native American tribes at the center of the epidemic, finding that 80 percent of RMSF cases require emergency care, 14 percent were admitted to the intensive care unit, and 7 percent were fatal. The average cost per death for RMSF was $775,467, more than five times the $140,862 cost per death for pneumococcal disease in the United States.
Since 2002, more than 300 cases of RMSF and 20 deaths have occurred on Arizona Indian reservations leading to an estimated $13.2 million in economic losses.
RMSF begins with non-specific symptoms such as fever and headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes rash with severely ill patients possibly requiring amputation of fingers, toes or limbs due to blood loss, heart and lung specialty care, and management in intensive care units. The average time from the start of symptoms to death is 8 days, with more than 20 percent of untreated cases being fatal.
While treatment with the antibiotic doxycycline early enough can be effective, there is no vaccine for RMSF. Treating homes and lawns, as well as placing tick collars on dogs and pets, are recognized as the best way to prevent RMSF, researchers said.
"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," Drexler said.
The study is published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.