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Infectious disease expert warns of spread of Rocky Mountain spotted fever

An infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins who has spent nearly three decades studying the life-threatening, tick-borne infection known as Rocky Mountain spotted fever warns that the first widespread outbreak of the bacterial disease in Arizona is a growing and dangerous sign of how humans can inadvertently help spread infectious organisms beyond traditional state boundaries.

In an article to be published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the Hopkins pathologist and microbiologist J. Stephen Dumler, M.D., a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, highlights the importance of the recent outbreak in Arizona as the first confirmed cases that could be traced back to ticks carried into to the state on feral dogs, an animal group whose population has markedly increased. And, as the number of dogs has increased, so have the number of ticks. A detailed study of this latest outbreak by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is featured in the same edition of the NEJM online Aug. 11.

According to Dumler, the disease, most often marked by a telltale spotty rash that appears five to 10 days after the first signs of infection, has been largely confined to the South Central and Southeastern United States, although sporadic cases have been reported in all 48 continental states, mostly North Carolina. (Hopkins' home state of Maryland is among the top 10 states for the disease, with at least 79 cases reported in 2004, up from 19 in 2000.)

The scientist also reports that the number of people infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is fatal in up to 10 percent of those who contract it, has peaked for the third known time this century, with more than 1,800 cases reported nationally in 2003 and 2004. However, scientists believe the number of unreported cases is much greater.

Dumler's opinion is that growing awareness among physicians about the disease's early signs and symptoms may be the
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Source:Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions


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