Episode 90: Clinical unknown with Rabih and Reza at MUSC – fever

Rabih and Reza tackle a clinical unknown at MUSC with host, Dr. Marc Heincelman.

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Dr. Marc Heincelman

Marc Heincelman is an assistant professor within the Department of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he also serves as director of the Medicine Clerkship and Acting Internship.  He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh, medical degree from Loyola University of Chicago, and completed his combined internal medicine/pediatrics residency at the Medical University of South Carolina in 2014.  His passion for medical education stems from his mission to motivate and inspire learners to become the best physicians possible for their future patients.

Case Summary

A middle-aged woman with a history of treated breast cancer and unspecified uveitis presented with subacute fever, arthralgias, and headache. She was found to have elevated inflammatory markers, extensive lymphadenopathy, and a cholestatic pattern of liver injury with an unrevealing evaluation for infectious and autoimmune pathologies. She remained febrile despite broad-spectrum antibiotics. She was then started on empiric doxycycline, which resulted in prompt resolution of her fevers. A serologic test for Rickettsia rickettsii returned positive, confirming the diagnosis of “spotless” Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Teaching Points:

  • Rocky mountain spotted fever(RMSF) is an acute, life-threatening febrile illness caused by the intracellular pathogen,Rickettsia rickettsii. Endemic  to the southeastern and south central regions of the United States, it is transmitted by ticks (esp Dermacentor ). The classic triad of symptoms includes fever, headache, and rash (often beginning on the wrists and ankles, progressing from maculopapular to petechial). Roughly 10-12% of cases may present without rash (i.e., “spotless” RMSF), more commonly reported in elderly and/or African American patients. Given its high mortality rate, prompt initiation of empiric doxycycline is important for improving outcomes.