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Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Panama; Rickettsia Ricketssii

Panama City, Panama is not a place where travelers need to worry a lot about catching tropical diseases. Panama has an active public health system, sprays for insects, and closely monitors the incidence of tropical diseases. Having said this there are a number of tropical diseases that travelers and Panama residents should be aware of. One of these is rickettsia ricketssii which is known in the USA as Rocky Mountain Spotted fever. For those wishing to be safe while seeing some of Panama’s natural wonders, outside of Panama City especially, a little knowledge and a lot of bug spray would be good things.


For those who didn’t know, Panama connects North and South America. It is the site of the Panama Canal where boats make an eight hours trip between Atlantic and Pacific. Panama has tropical rain forests in its interior and white sandy beaches on both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Panama has the best roads, airports, ports, and telecommunications in Latin America. Panama is in the midst of an economic boom. Tropical diseases are primarily a problem for those who travel to or live in poor urban areas or the interior of Panama.

Rickettsia Ricketssii; Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Panama

According to the February 2, 2008 issue of La Prensa, Panama, two potentially fatal diseases are making a comeback in Panama. One of those is dengue. The other is rickettsia ricketssii.

Gladys Guerrero, chief of the epidemiology department at the Ministerio de Salud, explained that rickettsia rickettsii returned in 2004 and in 2007 claimed three victims, a 22-year-old adult and two children, aged three and five. Rickettsia is most commonly known in the U.S. as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The disease is caused by a species of bacteria that is spread to humans by ticks. Initial signs and symptoms of the disease include sudden onset of fever, headache, and muscle pain, followed by the development of a rash. The disease can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages, and without prompt and appropriate treatment it can be fatal.”
Dr. Guerrero reported that the disease had disappeared as a diagnosis in Panama between 1950 and 1952.

According to the CDC Yellow Book, there are no vaccines for rickettsia ricketssii (Rocky Mountain spotted fever) and the disease is treated with antibiotics. Travelers are advised to use insect repellant to ward off ticks.

“Travelers should be advised that prevention of rickettsia ricketssii is based on avoidance of vector-infested habitats, use of repellents and protective clothing, prompt detection and removal of arthropods [ticks] from clothing and skin, and attention to hygiene.”


There has been a recurrence rickettsia ricketssii (Rocky Mountain spotted fever) in Panama in recent years. Rickettsia ricketssii is passed to humans by the bite of a tick. There is no vaccine and treatment of mild cases is with antibiotics. Panama Travelers are advised that using insect repellent when in areas with ticks is the best prevention. For those working in rain forest areas in Panama as well as travelers it is common practice to wear long pants, tuck pants into socks, and tape over with duct tape.

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