Grand Canyon visitor tests positive for rare tick-borne relapsing fever

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — A visitor to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park has a positive case of tick-borne relapsing fever, according to a Grand Canyon National Park press statement issued Saturday. Authorities are advising those with a travel history to the North Rim and symptoms consistent with relapsing fever to consult a health care provider.

Prior to becoming ill, the visitor had been vacationing on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and adjacent areas in mid-September, according to the statement. The visitor was treated successfully with a course of antibiotics.

Tick-borne relapsing fever, also called TBRF, is a rare, but treatable and curable, bacterial infection that occurs in the western United States, the media statement said. People contract TBRF after being bitten by infected soft ticks, which typically feed on rodents.

“Bites from soft ticks are painless, brief (15 to 20 minutes) and usually happen at night when humans are asleep,” according to the statement. “Most infections are associated with sleeping in cabins in mountainous areas where rodents are present.”

Common symptoms of tick-borne relapsing fever include high fever, headache, chills and muscle aches. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and rash may also occur. TBRF is characterized by recurring episodes of symptoms that usually last about three days, disappear for seven days, then return.

Most people who are infected with TBRF develop symptoms approximately seven days after being bitten by the tick. TBRF is not transmitted from person to person.

“There are usually less than 50 reported cases of TBRF in the United States annually,” according to the statement. “Though uncommon, two outbreaks have occurred on the North Rim of Grand Canyon in the last 42 years. In 1973, 62 cases were reported. In 1990, 17 cases were reported.”

Prompt reporting of tick-borne relapsing fever cases is currently required in at least 12 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Large multistate outbreaks have been linked to rental cabins near national parks and other common vacation locations, and prompt reporting by clinicians was critical to the identification and control of these outbreaks,” according to the CDC website. “Without corrective action, tick-infested cabins can remain a source of human infection for many years.”

Authorities said Saturday, individuals with travel history to the North Rim and symptoms consistent with TBRF should consult a health care provider and discuss potential exposures. TBRF is treatable with a commonly available antibiotic (doxycycline).

According to the CDC, given appropriate treatment, most patients recover within a few days. Long-term aftereffects of TBRF are rare but include iritis, uveitis, cranial nerve and other neuropathies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following to prevent TBRF:

  • Avoid sleeping in rodent-infested buildings
  • Prevent tick bites by using insect repellent containing DEET (on skin or clothing) or permethrin (applied to clothing or equipment)
  • Rodent-proof buildings in areas where the disease is known to occur
  • Consult a licensed pest control specialist who can safely identify and remove any rodent nesting material from walls, attics, crawl spaces and floors; treat cracks and crevices in the walls with pesticide; and provide additional pesticide treatments as necessary to effectively rid the building of soft ticks

Grand Canyon National Park, the National Park Service Office of Public Health, Coconino County Public Health Services District and other park partners are investigating the incident.

More information about tick-borne relapsing fever is available through the CDC website.

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1 Comment

  • 42214 October 5, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    Looks like crabs on steroids, so I’m told.

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