Flinders Island Spotted Fever fact sheet
What is Flinders Island Spotted Fever?
Flinders Island Spotted Fever (FISF) is an illness caused by bacteria known as Rickettsia honei.
It was first identified on Flinders Island, but has also been identified elsewhere in Australia and overseas.
It is part of a group of illnesses caused by Rickettsia bacteria, which includes other Spotted Fever infections and typhus infections.
How is it spread?
FISF is spread to humans by a bite from a tick infected with the bacteria.
The tick that carries the FISF bacteria is thought to most commonly be found on reptiles.
In Tasmania, infections have been acquired on Flinders Island; the East Coast, including Schouten Island; and possibly as far south as Kettering and the Midlands.
However, the ticks which can carry the disease are in other parts of Tasmania and it is possible the disease can be caught from a much wider geographical area.
Infections can occur throughout the year, but the risk increases during spring and summer months when ticks are most active and when camping and other outdoor activities are more common.
Infections occur in people of all ages.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually start 1-2 weeks after being bitten by an infected tick.
Common symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, and extreme tiredness.
Some people also have a rash. Symptoms usually start suddenly.
There may be a prominent scab at the site of the bite.
How is it diagnosed?
FISF can be difficult to diagnose, but a doctor may suspect it if typical symptoms develop after being in a high-risk area, particularly if there is a history of a tick bite.
The diagnosis may be made by blood tests taken one to two weeks apart, which detects the body's immune response to the infection.
How is it treated?
FISF can be treated with antibiotics such as doxycycline.
If there is a strong clinical suspicion of infection, treatment should begin without waiting for the results of laboratory tests.
Symptoms usually resolve quickly with treatment.
How is it prevented?
No vaccine is available to prevent FISF or any other type of typhus infection.
The best way to prevent these types of infections is to minimise exposure to ticks. This includes:
- Use of personal insect repellents
- Wear long sleeves and long pants to minimise exposed skin.
- Impregnate clothing with tick-repellent.
- Campers can use camp beds to elevate them above the ground
- Check your skin for ticks.
If you do find a tick on your skin, you need to remove it carefully.
Advice is to remove with fine tipped forceps by grasping as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pulling up with steady pressure.
Before removal, the tick can be sprayed with an aerosol insect repellent containing permethrin or a pyrethroid chemical.
If you suffer from allergic reactions to ticks, please seek medical attention rather than trying to remove it yourself.
More information on removing ticks can be found on the Australian Government tick bite prevention webpage
What should I do if I have Flinders Island Spotted Fever?
There is no risk of spreading FISF to others around you and you do not need to isolate yourself.
If you think you may have FISF, please see your usual GP.
If you have been prescribed a course of antibiotics, please ensure that you take the whole course.
For further information:
Call the Public Health Hotline – Tasmania on 1800 671 738 to speak to a clinical nurse consultant.