African Tick Bite Fever

African Tick Bite Fever is an illness caused by the bacteria rickettsia africae characterized by body aches, muscle pain, headache, fever and rash and spread through the bite of infected ticks that are harbored by cattle.

Where does it occur?

It occurs primarily in Sub Saharan Africa and outbreaks have occurred in association with safari and hunting trips.

How is it transmitted?

The bacteria are transmitted through the bite of infected cattle ticks.

What is the risk for travelers?

The risk is generally low, but higher with extensive outdoor activities like safari’s, hunting, hiking, camping etc.

How soon after exposure will one develop symptoms?

Symptoms usually develop in 4-5 days, but may take up to 2 weeks after exposure.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Initially one develops an ulcer at the tick bite site which has a black crusty middle and is surrounded by redness, called an eschar. The lymph glands in the region of the ulcer become swollen and painful and there may even be a red streak along the involved extremity leading from the ulcer. A red pimple, boil or flat like rash can occur in association with the eschar. Commonly one also develops headaches, body aches, muscle pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Fever can be seen but maybe low grade and not a prominent feature.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

Blood antibody (IgM / IgG) tests and PCR tests are available; however initial diagnosis is based on symptoms, findings and history of exposure.

Is there any treatment?

Tetracycline is the antibiotic of choice.

Is the infected person contagious?

There is no risk of person to person transmission.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Avoid tick bites by applying insect repellant containing DEET, wearing long sleeve clothing, possibly even impregnated with permethrin. See insect safety section for more details

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