What Is Colorado Tick Fever?

Colorado tick fever is a viral infection transmitted through a bite from an infected Dermacentor andersoni wood tick. This tick species is more commonly referred to as the Rocky Mountain wood tick.

Ticks are small brown parasites that are most commonly found in wooded areas and fields. They need blood from animals and humans in order to survive. Unfortunately, they are often carriers of certain diseases, and they can pass these diseases on to the people they bite. Colorado tick fever is one of the many diseases that ticks may transmit.

Colorado tick fever is limited to Canada and the western United States. The disease is most prevalent in the state of Colorado. Incidence of Colorado tick fever is highest between February and October, with 90 percent of cases being reported between April and July. You are at an increased risk for the disease if you spend time outdoors in tick-infested areas.

Symptoms of Colorado tick fever may include headaches, fever, and chills. These symptoms often begin within three to six days after a tick bite occurs. This period of time is referred to as the incubation period. Once symptoms develop, they usually go away within 10 days. Treatment is rarely required, and most people make a full recovery without complications.

Colorado tick fever is sometimes referred to as mountain tick fever or American mountain fever.

Symptoms of Colorado tick fever include:

  • fever up to 105°F
  • chills
  • severe headache
  • light sensitivity
  • muscle aches
  • skin tenderness
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • weakness and fatigue
  • faint rash

It’s important to note that symptoms of Colorado tick fever take at least three days to develop. If you experience symptoms immediately after getting a tick bite, then your symptoms are likely being caused by another condition. You should speak with your doctor if you develop severe symptoms of Colorado tick fever or it your symptoms don’t improve within one week.

Colorado tick fever is caused by the Colorado tick fever virus. The virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. The main carrier of the Colorado tick virus is the Rocky Mountain wood tick, which is most commonly found in the western United States. It usually lives in wooded areas located above 5,000 feet in elevation.

Your doctor can make a Colorado tick fever diagnosis by doing a physical examination and performing various laboratory tests. These tests may include:

Complement Fixation Antibody Test

This test determines whether antibodies to the Colorado tick fever virus are present in the blood. Antibodies are special proteins that help fight off harmful substances, such as bacteria and viruses. If antibodies to the Colorado tick fever virus are found, then a Colorado tick fever diagnosis is made.

Complete Blood Count

This is a broad screening test that measures the amount of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets in the body. It is a simple blood test that can help doctors determine the exact cause of symptoms.

Liver Function Tests

These tests evaluate how well the liver is working by measuring levels of proteins, liver enzymes, and bilirubin in the blood. Colorado tick fever can affect the liver, so impaired liver function may be a sign of the disease.

There is no specific treatment for Colorado tick fever. Once symptoms occur, they typically go away on their own within 10 days. The fever and muscles aches may be treated with acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, and other pain relief medications. Getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated are important as well.

You will also need to remove the tick as soon as possible. Call your doctor if you are unable to remove the entire tick from your skin.

You should never attempt to remove ticks using lit matches, alcohol, or petroleum jelly. These methods may cause the tick to release the pathogen that causes Colorado tick fever.

The safest way to remove a tick from your skin is to use fine-tipped tweezers. You can remove the tick by doing the following:

  • Wear rubber or latex gloves if you have some. If you don’t have gloves, place a paper towel or tissue over your fingers.
  • Grab the tick with the tweezers as close to your skin as possible and pull up in a steady motion. Using a twisting or jerking motion may cause the tick to break. If this happens, it will be very difficult to remove the rest of the body. Try not to squeeze the tick’s body.
  • Wash your hands and the bite mark with soap and water.

Put the tick in a plastic bag in your freezer, making note of the date. If you become ill, the tick can help your doctor make a diagnosis more easily.

Colorado tick fever rarely causes complications. In some cases, however, the disease can lead to:

  • encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain tissue
  • meningitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes in the brain and spinal cord
  • hemorrhagic fever, which damages the blood vessels as well as various organs

Hospitalization may be required if complications occur.

You can lower your risk for tick bites by avoiding areas that are known for being infested with ticks. When you are in an area that might have ticks, be sure to wear proper clothing. This includes closed-toe shoes, long pants tucked into socks, and long sleeve shirts. It may also be beneficial to wear light-colored clothes, as ticks are harder to see on dark clothing. Wearing insect repellant is effective for keeping ticks away as well.

After spending time in an area where ticks live, make sure you check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks before returning indoors. Ticks that are embedded in the skin should be removed with tweezers immediately.