Relapsing Fever

What is Relapsing Fever?

Relapsing fever is a type of bacterial infection caused by bacteria of the Borrelia type. It is transmitted from one person to another through the bite of an infected soft-bodied tick. It is characterized by recurring episodes of fever, which can happen every two to six days for one to two weeks.

Unlike other diseases transmitted by ticks, such as Lyme disease, relapsing fever is not spread directly between humans. Instead, it is spread through infected ticks that become infected by biting an infected animal, such as a sheep, a cow or a bird.

Symptoms of Relapsing Fever

The initial symptoms of relapsing fever usually appear within five to 10 days after a tick bite. These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Nausea and vomiting

After a few days of these initial symptoms, the fever and other symptoms will usually disappear for one to four days. After this, the fever and other symptoms may come back, and this can happen up to four to seven times.

Diagnosis of Relapsing Fever

To diagnose relapsing fever, your doctor will first take a detailed history of your symptoms and any recent exposure you have had to ticks. Your doctor will also likely do a physical exam and blood tests to look for evidence of an infection. In some cases, a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) may be done to look for evidence of infection in the spinal fluid.

Treatment for Relapsing Fever

The recommended treatment for relapsing fever is antibiotics. Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics like doxycycline or tetracycline. In some cases, a hospital stay may be required if your doctor is concerned about more severe complications of relapsing fever.

Prevention of Relapsing Fever

The best way to prevent relapsing fever is to avoid or minimize exposure to ticks. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Wear protective clothing that covers the arms and legs.
  • Use an insect repellent that contains DEET when outdoors.
  • Check for ticks on your body after being outdoors and remove them promptly.
  • Keep lawns and grassy areas lower and aerate them to reduce tick populations.