Infectolab - tick

What Are The Symptoms Of Rickettsia?

Rickettsia is a group of different viral diseases caused by the reproduction of the Rickettsiae microorganism after being transferred via tick, lice, mite, or flea bite. Rickettsia is only able to survive and continue multiplying inside living cells, particularly bacteria cells, because it cannot reproduce on its own. Rickettsia is divided into several different subgroups, including typhus and spotted fever, and all instances can be attributed to the group of Rickettsia bacteria.  

The different types of Rickettsia infections can be found in all parts of the world. The spotted fever group is home to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Boutonneuse fever, and Oriental spotted fever. The typhus group includes louse-borne typhus, Brill-Zinsser disease, and murine typhus. So, what are the symptoms of Rickettsia infection? Let’s take a look.

What does Rickettsia do to the body?

Rickettsia infection can lead to symptoms that range depending on the type. When Rickettsia leads to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, for example, patients tend to experience fever, headaches, muscle aches, gastrointestinal distress, and a rash within a week of being bitten by an infected arthropod. In the case of Boutonneuse fever, the same kinds of symptoms will be experienced. In the typhus group, specifically louse-borne typhus, the patient can experience fever, an unrelenting headache, and a rash that spreads everywhere on the body apart from the face, palms, and soles of the feet.

The symptoms of all the illnesses that can be developed from Rickettsia present similarly, but the complications that can arise from these illnesses vary greatly. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can result in severe complications such as nerve damage and hearing loss. In typhus cases, the central nervous system is attacked, leading to lasting issues along with pneumonia and kidney problems.

The disease spreads throughout the body via cells and bacteria along the blood vessels. When it does this, it changes the cells through a process called phagocytosis. Phagocytosis is a progression that allows the Rickettsia to essentially overcome the rest of the cell, and then take over to multiply more of itsself, in turn being able to infect more cells throughout the body.  If the Rickettsia infection is left untreated, it can cause serious complications over time. People have reported many serious symptoms such as jaundice, seizures, paralysis, and even coma. Even more severe conditions that can arise from a Rickettsia infection include congestive heart failure, organ failure, myocarditis, endocarditis, and glomerulonephritis.

Infectolab - infection
Image by Qimono on Pixabay: Rickettsia spreads throughout the body via engulfed cells.

What is the treatment for Rickettsia?

The effectiveness of treating Rickettsia is entirely dependent on when the illness was found within the body. If it hasn’t spread far and is caught early enough (within the first week or two), a course of antibiotics such as doxycycline or chloramphenicol will tend to have the greatest effect without any lasting damage.

If the illness has progressed, most patients are hospitalized, given intravenous antibiotics, and monitored closely for the onset of more severe symptoms. In people prone to blood clots or dehydration issues, electrolyte therapy will be utilized to ensure that their blood isn’t coagulating and they have maintained the proper number of electrolytes to keep the body in fighting shape against the disease.

If you’re wondering “Is rickettsia contagious?”, don’t worry too much – it does not spread easily from human to human, because the virus needs to spread through the blood. If someone with Rickettsia is bitten by a flea or tick, for example, and then bites another person, that is how the disease can spread from human to human. It is impossible to spread it through skin-to-skin contact alone. The infected animal can host the Rickettsia infection for the entirety of its life, though, making it hard to control the spread of infection throughout an area full of diseased arthropods.

How is Rickettsia diagnosed?

Rickettsia is generally diagnosed through monitoring symptoms and investigating the history of the patient’s recent whereabouts. Since it is hard to find the antibodies that cause the illness early on, the doctor must rely on the aforementioned methods to make the diagnosis. If the disease has progressed further, a blood test and a skin biopsy can also be done on the rash (if it is present) to determine whether the patient is infected.

A new ELIspot test has been making the rounds of late as a new and improved way to diagnose certain diseases such as Rickettsia. The test looks for Rickettsia antibodies using Rickettsia-specific antigens, thus allowing the infected cells in the body to be singled out.   

Infectolab - hiker
Image by Hermann on Pixabay: How is Rickettsia prevented? One way is by covering up with long-sleeve shirts and long pants to avoid tick bites.

How is Rickettsia prevented?

The only certain way to prevent Rickettsia is to never get bitten by an infected arthropod. That may seem impossible, but there are ways to avoid those bites. If a person works outside, especially, they can take precautions like avoiding infected areas, covering up all areas of the skin with long pants and shirts, and checking themselves thoroughly for any bites. Checking pets is also a good idea for anyone who has frequented forested or high-bush areas that may be home to infected arthropods.

Featured image by Jerzy Gorecki on Pixabay

Leave a Reply