Epidemic of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Noted in AZ

Findings among several American Indian tribes on two reservations in Arizona.

HealthDay News — An epidemic of Rocky Mountain spotted fever among several American Indian tribes on two reservations in Arizona has led to more than $13.2 million in societal costs in nine years, according to research published online in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The researchers reviewed 205 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever that occurred among members of two tribes hardest hit by the epidemic. These cases occurred between 2002 and 2011. More than 80% of the cases required emergency department visits. 

Fourteen percent of patients were admitted to the intensive care unit, and 7% of patients died. The average cost per death from Rocky Mountain spotted fever is $775,467. Children account for more than half of deaths caused by the disease, the study authors said.

Overall, 300 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and 20 deaths from the disease occurred on Arizona Indian reservations between 2002 and 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The death rate for the illness is 20%, the researchers said, and the average time from the start of symptoms to death is eight days. Severely ill patients may have fingers, toes, or limbs amputated due to blood loss. They may also need heart and lung specialty care, and management in an intensive care unit.

“Rocky Mountain spotted fever is completely preventable,” Naomi Drexler, MPH, a CDC epidemiologist and one of the study authors, said in an agency news 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,” she added. “These programs are costly, but medical expenses and lives lost cost four times more than Rocky Mountain spotted fever prevention efforts. Increasing access to these prevention efforts is critical to save lives and protect communities.”


1. Drexler NA, et al. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2015; 15-0104.