Last week, a 5-year-old girl in Grenada, Mississippi, woke up with a sudden case of paralysis from a tick bite on her head.
It's always unsettling to find a tick attached to your body. But a mother in Mississippi is warning others after a rare tick-borne toxin left her daughter temporarily unable to walk or speak.
Last week, Jessica Griffin woke up her daughter Kailyn for daycare and noticed the 5-year-old was having trouble getting out of bed.
"I was just thinking that her legs were asleep until I noticed she could hardly talk!" Griffin wrote in a Facebook post. (Griffin did not respond to a request for comment.)
Griffin noticed a tick, swollen with blood, latched onto her daughter's scalp. The night before, Kailyn had a T-ball game and seemed "perfectly fine" — she even had a bath afterward and there was no tick to be seen, her mother told ABC-affiliate WTXL in Midway, Florida.
Griffin removed the tick and put it in a plastic ziplock bag, then took her daughter to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. At the hospital, blood work and a CT scan revealed a diagnosis of "tick paralysis."
"Tick paralysis" is a rare disease thought to be caused by a neurotoxin in the tick's saliva.
Tick paralysis, which can happen to animals and people, is caused by a neurotoxin found in the tick's salivary glands, according to the CDC.
The neurotoxin acts on the nervous system and causes acute, flaccid paralysis — a rapid onset of weakness in the muscles. The paralysis is typically ascending, meaning it starts in the lower limbs and gradually spreads up the body.
Paralysis and other symptoms typically go away within 24 hours of removing the tick from the body. Tick paralysis is often confused with other neurologic disorders where paralysis is a symptom, such as botulism or Guillain-Barré syndrome, according to the CDC.
The most common types of ticks that cause this disease are the American dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick, according to the Columbia University Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Research Center. These ticks are usually found in the Southeastern US, the Rocky Mountain states (Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming), and the Pacific Northwest.
Griffin shared her daughter's story on Facebook, warning others to check their children for ticks this summer.
Ticks can spread a number of other diseases, so it's important to prevent bites when you are outdoors in wooded or grassy areas this summer.
Despite their tiny size, ticks are surprisingly powerful vectors of disease. In the US, the number of reported tick-borne illness has doubled since 2004, according to a recent report from the CDC. Most of these were cases of Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that causes a rash and flu-like symptoms that can spread to the joints and nervous system if left untreated.
Other tick-borne illnesses include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Powassan virus — just to name a few. So ticks can spread quite a few germs, which is why it's important to take steps to avoid them.
Ticks are most active in the US between April and September, and they like to hang out in wooded, grassy, or bushy areas, so outdoor activities like hiking or camping can increase your risk. The best way to prevent tick bites is to use insect repellents, wear long sleeves and pants, and perform tick checks on your body and your child's body after spending time outdoors. Some ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, so make sure to be thorough.
If you do find one on your body, here's how to safely remove it. The sooner you remove a tick the better, because it is easier for the tick to spread germs (or neurotoxins, like the tick in this case) the longer it is attached.
Fortunately, Kailyn made a full recovery from the tick paralysis and was able to walk out of the hospital.
Caroline Kee is a health reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Caroline Kee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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