Family says 2-year-old girl died because of tick bite

A 2-year-old girl from Plainfield, Indiana, died on Saturday morning after her family says she was bitten by a tick that was carrying Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

When Kenley Ratliff came down with a high fever that wouldn't break, her family took her to the emergency room two separate times thinking she might have strep throat, according to WISH.

The child was released from the facility both times, but when her fever ultimately wouldn't come down, she was admitted to Riley's Children Hospital in Indianapolis.

Kenley remained hospitalized for several days while fighting a fever of about 104 F, which caused her brain to swell and her internal organs to fail, according to the family's GoFundMe page.

Doctors placed Kenley on a breathing tube and administered antibiotics while working tirelessly to diagnose her, but she succumbed to her illness around 3 a.m. on June 3.


Photo: GoFundMe

"Her mother was holding her hand, her little two year old hand was just so swollen it was almost the size of her mother's," family friend Nichol Kirby told WISH. "She had purple rashes splotches all over her body and ununiformed (sic) pattern just all over little tiny purple spots big purple patches."

Doctors later diagnosed Kenley with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a tick-borne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii.

According to the CDC, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can prove fatal if not treated within the first few days of symptoms, which include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, muscle pain and, occasionally, a splotchy rash.

Kirby told WISH that Kenley's mother hopes their tragic story serves to remind other families to always check for ticks.

"She would be devastated to see this to happen to anyone else and I think she would just everyone to know how much she loved her baby girl that was her angel," she said.

Experts have started warning parents and doctors to be on high alert for ticks this summer, as it has been declared an especially bad season due to the mild winter and growing deer and mice populations.

RELATED: Here are the best ways to avoid tick bites:

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How to avoid tick bites
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How to avoid tick bites

1. Stay in the middle of the path

When hiking, make sure to stay in the middle of the path. Weeds, grass and trees make it easier for ticks to crawl onto you. Don't venture out to the grass or bushes, where ticks are formidable to be hiding. 

2. Wear long pants and closed toed shoes

Protect your skin. Adding an extra layer makes it more difficult to latch on to you. It's smart to wear pants, long sleeves and hats, especially in the summer.

3. Invest in deer-resistant plants. 

Since ticks feed on and are transported by deer, try looking into deer-resistant plants. French marigolds, rosemary, mint and crape myrtle are just some of the greens deer tend to "overlook". 

See a complete list of the herbs and flowers here

4. Check your dog! 

Dogs can literally bring ticks right to your front door. Prevent ticks by keeping their coats short in the summer. Use your hands to check the fur, stopping if you feel a pea-sized bump. Favorite spots ticks like to hide include the ears, toes and under the tail. 

Dog ticks don't "harbor diseases that sicken people", but you should still be wary. 

5. Yes, repellant can help. 

According to TickenEncounter, spray with DEET does not provide "sufficient" protection. Get spray for your clothes like Permethrin, which instantly kills ticks. 

6. Dry your clothes 

The CDC recommends tumble drying clothes immediately for ten minutes after you've been outside. Ticks can easily "dry out" with high heat, but you should make sure the clothes are completely dry. 

Warning: Ticks can survive the wash. 

7. Tuck your pants into your socks.

This covers the small, easily accessible space in between your pants and ankles. Especially if you are sitting, it makes it easier for ticks to latch on. 

8. Stay in the sun.

Since ticks survive in shady, humid environments, researchers agree that staying in the sun lowers the risk for ticks. According to LiveScience, ticks "can't survive" in places with lower than 80% humidity. 

9. Invest in Permethrin socks

The chemical is successful in protecting against ticks, mosquitoes and other types of bites. Lymedisease.org estimates that permethrin-treated footwear offered 74 times the protection from bites.

10. Mow your lawn

Cut your grass, clean your yard, get rid of any extra firewood or wood chips. 

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