It’s been nearly three years since 2-year-old Kenley Ratliff lost her precious life to a tick bite.
The toddler from Plainfield, Indiana, tragically passed away from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a tick-borne illness which can be deadly if not treated early with the right antibiotic.
As the weather warms up and ticks come out for the summer, her mourning family wants other parents to be aware of how severely and rapidly the disease can harm a child if it’s not recognized and treated immediately.
“If we could save one child’s life then we will have done our job,” said Kenley’s aunt, Jordan Clapp.
It only took eight days for Kenley to go from a happy and healthy little girl to dangerously ill.
After spiking a 103.8-degree fever, Kenley’s mom, Kayla, rushed her daughter to the emergency room. Doctors did a full exam and concluded the symptoms to be caused by a virus or possible bacterial infection.
They prescribed amoxicillin along with plenty of fluids and rest.
But when the fever rose to 104 degrees the next day, Kayla returned to the ER.
This time, doctors tested the almost--year-old for strep, which came back positive. They sent the family on their way with some antibiotics, and instructions to come back if things don’t improve.
Three days passed, and Kayla did as the doctors said — waited and let the antibiotics do their thing — but Kenley’s fever had not gone away.
That’s when they started to panic. Kayla packed up their things and took her daughter to the University of Indiana’s Riley Children’s Hospital with Jordan. On the way, Kenley’s body “went completely limp,” Jordan said. “Her eyes closed and my sister had to hold her head up.”
When they arrived at the hospital, doctors changed antibiotics, hoping Kenley’s body would respond to something different. It didn’t work.
A rash began to cover Kenley’s arms and legs, which was the first clue to doctors at Riley that the previous strep diagnosis may have been wrong. Kenley’s brain began to swell, and her organs were failing.
By the time doctors were able to identify the disease in Kenley and pump her little body with the correct antibiotic — doxycycline — they were too late.
She would have turned three just weeks later.
Jordan says it makes sense now that her niece could have been bitten by a tick, saying that Kenley was always outside, and she’d just recently been on a camping trip.
Though the family had heard reports about tick bites and associated diseases, they had no reason to think Kenley was suffering anything but strep throat after the second trip to the hospital.
Now they want Kenley’s tragic death to serve as a warning to other parents of the dangers of tick bites.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tick-borne diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can present themselves with very general signs and symptoms — things like high fevers, headaches, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The rash doesn’t typically come until a few days later, and even then, rashes in children can be very common with viruses.
Because the early symptoms are so vague and could be the cause of a variety of illnesses, delayed diagnosis is one of the greatest challenges with tick-borne diseases.
The CDC’s website suggests symptoms that often occur in cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:
- Rash (occurs two to five days after fever, may be absent in some cases; see below)
- Abdominal pain (may mimic appendicitis or other causes of acute abdominal pain)
- Muscle pain
- Lack of appetite
- Conjunctival infection (red eyes)
When spending time outside this summer, it’s best to avoid wooded and brush areas with high grass and to stay toward the center of hiking trails.
In addition to wearing clothing that covers your ankles and legs when participating in outdoor activities, the CDC suggests conducting a full-body tick-check after returning from tick-heavy areas.
“Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair.”
It’s also smart to invest in insect repellent containing at least 20 percent DEET, and use it in conjunction with sunscreen when sending your kids out to play in the yard, creek, woods or hiking trails.
Summer is just one tick(ing) time bomb.
Know the signs, symptoms, and dangers of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other tick bites before it’s too late.