SAN DIEGO — Rickettsia is spread by ticks, lice, fleas, and mites found in animals such as dogs. It lives in people’s bloodstream, slowly damaging their skin, lungs, brain and other organs until they die.

Seventeen people in the state of Baja California — including some children — have died from the disease this year, according to the state’s health secretary Adrián Medina Amarillas. Eight of the deaths have taken place in Tijuana.

As the weather heats up, more cases are expected since most Rickettsia deaths occur during the summer. Medina Amarillas is asking people to be careful around dogs that might be carrying ticks.

A male adult dog tick, or Dermacentor variabilis, crawls over a penny. Dog ticks can transmit diseases such as rickettsia. Credit: NIAID (Photo by: IMAGE POINT FR/NIH/NIAID/BSIP //Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“It’s necessary to maintain clean living areas such as patios and make sure to control your dogs,” he said. “Don’t let them out on the streets to roam around and don’t let children, who have a greater risk, play with stray dogs.”

The health secretary is also advising people to seek medical attention if they suspect they were bitten by a tick.

According to the National Institute of Health, Rickettsia’s common symptoms develop within one week of infection and include fever, headache, malaise, nausea, or vomiting. 

And it is recommended that medication be administered within the first week of infection as the disease can linger for months if a person is not treated or receives treatment right away.

In Tijuana, studies show eight out of 10 dogs — both street and domesticated canines — have ticks that carry the rickettsia bacteria, according to Juan Esteban Domínguez. He’s a veterinarian as well as Tijuana’s director of Animal Control.

Rickettsia has nothing to do with rickets, which is a deficiency disease resulting from lack of vitamin D.