Tick bites kill 16 in Chihuahua

State authorities urge owners to keep pets healthy, call on people to seek treatment for Rocky Mountain spotted fever

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Summer not only brings hot temperatures that can dehydrate humans; it’s also prime time for the reproduction of dangerous bugs, according to medical experts.

In Chihuahua, Mexico, health authorities put residents on notice after confirming that 16 people who contracted rickettsia have died in the past few weeks. Half the deaths were in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Dr. Gumaro Barrios attributed the deaths to tick bites, though the disease, known in the United States as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, can also be spread by fleas, lice and some mites.

“We want to prevent further fatalities. We urge people to seek medical care as soon as they know they have been (bitten) by a tick,” Barrios, head of prevention at the Chihuahua State Health Department, said at an online news conference this week. “As responsible pet owners, we must take them to the veterinarian for all the care a dog needs – from bathing to vaccines to medication if it has ticks.”

Rickettsia or RMSF usually starts with a headache, nausea or stomach pain, Barrios said. The disease’s giveaway consists of dark spots on the skin. If unattended, that can be followed by organ failure.

Barrios said 8 out of 10 people in Juarez diagnosed with Rickettsia this year have died. That’s an 80 percent mortality rate.

“People are dying because if the disease reaches an advanced stage, there is nothing a doctor can do for you. It needs to be caught early. You need to take preventive measures in your home, keep it clean and keep your pets clean,” the health official said.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last December issued a health advisory after five Americans who had traveled or kept temporary residence in Tecate, Mexico, were diagnosed with Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

The CDC said RMSF is “endemic” in the Mexican border states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon. It is usually treated with the antibiotic doxycycline. The National Institutes of Health say the disease has a 20 percent to 30 percent mortality rate in the U.S. if not treated promptly.

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