It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: While on vacation with her parents in Texas, 6-year-old Emilee Russell was bitten by a tick and contracted Rocky Mountain spotted fever. She passed away just over two weeks after being bitten.
“Just … that pretty little smile … she could just look at you with that smile and break your heart,” said Emilee’s father, Steve Jones.
Emilee’s teacher recalls that the girl, who recently graduated from kindergarten, had been excited about losing her first tooth. “She was so thrilled that she’d finally lost a tooth like everybody else,” said teacher Ashley Styles. “It’s hard to think that she’s gone.”
Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a rare illness that affects one in a million people in Texas, causes fever, headache, vomiting, abdominal and muscle pain, and sometimes a rash, according to the CDC, and can be fatal if not treated within the first eight days of symptoms.
Most tick bites do not transmit pathogens, however ticks are the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the United States. In addition to rare diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, victims may also be in danger of contracting Lyme disease, rashes, relapsing fever, and other serious illnesses. While it’s difficult to avoid ticks in many areas of the U.S., there are measures that both children and parents can take to try to prevent any serious complications.
According to the CDC, ticks mostly populate high grasses or piled brush, such as loose leaves and other ground cover. If you are planning on walking any trails through the woods, wear long pants and shirts with sleeves, regardless of the temperature. Try to stay as centered on the path as possible to avoid the grass at the edges. Also be sure to lather on a good coating of DEET, which can be found in many common bug repellants. Any bottle containing 20% or more DEET is a good bet for keeping bugs away for about two hours.
Attempting to avoid ticks is one thing, but something as small as a pinky nail manages to get onto and inside clothing no matter how careful you are. When you get back inside, be sure to check your clothing and bare bodies for the insects, being extra diligent to check inside the folds such as under collars, inside pockets, and inside rolled shirt cuffs. If you suspect that you’ve walked through a tick-infested area, or if you just want to be extra sure you’ve gotten rid of any ticks you may have picked up, drying clothes on a high heat cycle for an hour should kill any remaining ticks on your clothing.
On the body, be sure to check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, in the hair, between the legs, and around the waist. If you find a tick on the skin, remove it with tweezers by grasping the bug as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight out.
If a tick is removed, watch the area closely and monitor the individual for any fever, rashes, or other symptoms associated with tick-borne illnesses. If any of these symptoms occur, head to the ER immediately. The sooner the illness is treated, the better chances the individual’s body has of fighting it off.