Relapsing fever is an infectious disease spread by lice or ticks. Several species in the Borrelia family causes this infection, the group of bacteria that also causes syphilis, Lyme disease and leptospirosis.
As the name implies, relapsing fever has the featured symptom of recurrent fever episodes that may last a few days. Followed by periods of no fever. This relapsing cycle can happen every week or so for several months.
Tick-borne relapsing fever bacteria infections do occur in areas of the western United States and Canada, as well as Africa, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Asia. Whereas, body lice spreading of the bacteria is more common in Asia, Africa, Central America and South America.
Recurring high fever episodes may be accompanied by symptoms of:
- dry cough
- unsteady gait
- abdominal pain
- nausea & vomiting
- neck pain, stiffness
- mental status changes
After several cycles of relapsing fever, some develop:
- facial droop
- widespread bleeding
The recurrent fever episodes can cause a “crisis” consisting of shaking chills, intense sweating, falling body temperature and low blood pressure. The risk of death is greatest due to an episode of hypotension. And if you go into a coma or develop myocarditis, liver problems or pneumonia the chances of death are greater.
The death rate for untreated relapsing fever is substantial. With early treatment, you have a chance at survival.
Recurrent fever episodes are treated with antibiotics. Of those receiving treatment, about half experience a Herxheimer reaction. This is shock induced by the rapid death of a very large number of Borrelia bacteria.