A 3-year-old York County, Pennsylvania girl died last month from a rare case of the tick borne disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), one day after her birthday. The child, identified as Lillian Rose Bennett of Fairview Township in York County by Penn Live, is believed to have contracted the deadly bacterium  in Harrisburg.

Characteristic spotted rash of Rocky Mountain spotted fever/CDC
Characteristic spotted rash of Rocky Mountain spotted fever/CDC

RMSF is a tick borne disease caused by the organism, Rickettsia rickettsii. Typically, the progress of the disease is a sudden onset of high fever, deep muscle painsevere headache and chills. A rash usually appears on the extremities within 5 days then soon spreads to palms and soles and then rapidly to the trunk.

Fatalities can be seen in greater than 20% of untreated cases. Death is uncommon with prompt recognition and treatment. Still approximately 3-5% of cases seen in the U.S. are fatal. The absence or delayed appearance of the typical rash or the failure to recognize it, especially in dark-skinned people cause a delay in diagnosis and increased fatalities.

Early stages of RMSF can be confused with erlichiosis, meningococcal meningitis and enteroviral infection.

Related: Tickborne diseases: It’s not just Lyme disease

The organism is maintained in nature in ticks. It can be transmitted to dogs and other mammals, but most times these cases cause little illness. People usually get infected from an infected tick bite. The tick requires from several hours to 24 hours of attachment and feeding to become infectious to people. So prompt removal of the tick can prevent infection. It is not transmitted person to person.

RMSF can be diagnosed in the laboratory using serological techniques, PCR or culture; however because of the necessity of prompt treatment, diagnosis is based on symptoms. There is no vaccine available for RMSF. It can be treated with tetracyclines either orally or intravenously.

Prevention is through immediate removal of ticks, wearing clothes that cover skin and removing ticks from dogs. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page

Lillian’s custodial parents, Ron and Donna Hoffman are establishing the Lillian Bennett Foundation for the Awareness of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to educate the public and doctors about the symptoms.

Donations can be made payable to “The Lillian Bennett Foundation” and mailed to: Northwest Savings Bank, 1048 E. Main Street, Palmyra, Pa., 17078.