Unfortunately, in the height of tick season, Lyme disease isn’t the only sickness people have to worry about anymore. There’s another tick-borne disease called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF). But contrary to its name, you can find incidences of RMSF in North, Central, and South America, one of which occurred in Indianapolis most recently and killed a 2-year-old girl. Now they want every single parent to know what to look for and how to treat the disease.
Kenley Ratliff’s Battle with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
It’s so saddening to know that Kenley Ratliff would have turned 3-years-old in June 2017. After only one week of feeling sick and being stuck in Riley Children’s Hospital, Kenley’s life was cut short. Upon receiving the lab tests, doctors revealed that Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was the cause of her death.
But this disease wasn’t the first thing that crossed their minds. Early on, Kenley suffered a 103.8-degree fever that landed her in the emergency room. After doctors examined her, they explained to her mother Kayla Conn, 28, that she had some sort of virus or bacterial infection. Doctors sent them home with an amoxicillin prescription and suggested Kenley come back if she didn’t improve within a day.
The next day, Kenley’s fever only worsened, rising to 104 degrees. After their second visit to the ER, doctors tested Kenley for strep throat which came back positive. In an interview with TODAY, Jordan Clapp, Kenley’s aunt confirmed the doctors “gave her the same treatment and told Kayla to keep Kenley hydrated and come back if she doesn’t remove.”
After three days of Kenley’s fever showing no sign of improvement and the antibiotics failing to ‘kick in’, the panic started to settle in. Unsure of what to do next, the family brought her to the University of Indiana’s Riley Children’s Hospital. On the way, however, Kenley’s body “went completely limp,” said Clapp. “Her eyes closed and my sister had to hold her head up.”
Kenley’s Signs and Symptoms
The doctors first altered her antibiotics but, again, Kenley’s body didn’t respond. In addition to her fever and strep throat, more warning signs began to surface:[1,2]
- Red, spotting rash
- Brain swelling
- Organ failure
Everything mentioned all above are hallmark signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Once the doctors realized what they were dealing with, they began treating Kenley with the correct antibiotic – doxycycline. But it was too late for the 2-year-old girl.
Reports of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever had been popping up in news reports, but “that was not [Kenley’s family’s] first thought. After two hospital visits, we thought it was strep.”
Although none of the doctors couldn pinpoint Kenley’s disease in time, Clapp acknowledged that “she was always outside. Just recently she had gone camping.”
With something so simple, something that most children do every day, how can you prevent events like this from happening further?
What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
As we mentioned earlier, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever isn’t limited to Colorado. It exists to varying degrees over all the Americas. In fact, it’s considered the most serious tick-borne illness in the United States. Ticks transmit the disease by biting you. This affects the lining of blood vessels which causes them to leak and potentially damage internal organs.[3,4]
Like Kenley, many people fall ill with the first week of their tick bite. But sometimes the body exhibits no signs or symptoms for up to two weeks, which may include:
- Red, spotted, non-itchy rashes
- High Fever (~102 degrees)
- Abdominal pain
- Severe Headache
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Restlessness and insomnia
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Treatment
The most common treatment for RMSF involves an oral antibiotic called doxycycline, the drug Kenley finally received. Both children and adults can take this drug with specific dosages but if you’re pregnant, your doctor may prescribe chloramphenicol. Another preventative measure is to remove the tick safely if you can spot it right away and properly clean it. Either way, the severity of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever relies on how quick you begin treatment.
If possible, you should always:
- Wear long pants, seeds, socks, and closed-toed shoes when taking walks in wooded or grassy areas. Stick to trails when possible.
- Use insect repellents or wear insect-repellent fabrics. If you don’t mind the chemicals in DEET (which tends to work well), you can try this natural homemade bug spray as well.
- Tick-proof your yards by clearing brush and leaves where ticks most likely live. If you have woodpiles, do you best to keep them sunny areas.
- Whenever you come inside from a day outdoors, check yourself and your pets for ticks. Do it slowly, carefully, and thoroughly because some ticks are no bigger than the head of a pin.
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