Indiana’s top doctor urges vigilance for spotted fever cases after toddler’s death

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Kenley Ratliff

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s state health commissioner is urging physicians to check patients for signs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever following a young girl’s recent death from the tick-borne disease.

Commissioner Jerome Adams also suggested in Monday’s advisory that doctors ask patients about outdoor exposure and said they shouldn’t rule out tick-borne diseases even if patients, especially children, have no evidence or recollection of a tick bite.

A 2-year-old girl from central Indiana died June 4 from Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Medical professionals in the state say some tick diseases are becoming more common in Indiana.

State officials have recorded more than 100 cases of Lyme disease each of the last three years. So far this year, there have been more than 10 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and more than 20 cases of Lyme disease, according to state health department data.

“There’s no question that the ticks are here and we’re seeing more of these tick-borne illnesses,” said Dr. John Christenson, a pediatric infectious disease specialist Riley Children’s at Indiana University Health.

Tick-borne disease was rarely seen in Indiana 15 years ago, according to Dr. Chandy John, another pediatric infectious disease specialist at Riley.

Early symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include severe headache, high fever and a rash. Symptoms may also include muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, restlessness and insomnia.

Dr. Ajit Singh, chief medical officer at Terre Haute Regional Hospital, said Indiana may be seeing an increase in ticks because they were able to reproduce more during the recent warm winters instead of being frozen by the cold weather.

Getting treatment within the first five days of being bitten is ideal, Singh said.

To prevent tick bites, anyone going outdoors is encouraged to use insect repellent with DEET. It’s also recommended to cover arms and legs outside and stay away from long grasses.

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