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2-year-old Indiana girl dies from possible tick bite

Family raising awareness after suspected case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

WATE 6 On Your Side staff - INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WATE) — Family and friends of a 2-year-old girl who died are hoping to raise awareness for tick born diseases.

Doctors said they believe Kenly Ratliff died from Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a tick-borne disease that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, causes a bacterial infection. Her family told WISH-TV they're waiting for autopsy results to confirm whether it was a tick bite that caused her death.

Nichol Kirby, a friend speaking on behalf of the family, said Kenley's mother wants to get the message out to other families to check for ticks. Kirby said the family is not sure when Kenley was bitten. They said Kenley loved spending time outdoors with her family.

Kirby said Kenley was taken to the emergency room twice for strep throat and released, but when the fever didn't come down she was admitted to the hospital. Over the weekend, she said Kenley was given an antibiotic and placed on a breathing tube while doctors tried to diagnosis her.

"She had a 104-degree fever and that fever remained about a 103.8 all week long up until her untimely death on Saturday morning at 2:45 a.m.," said Kirby.

Kirby said doctors treated Kenley for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as best as they could. She had a brain infection, swollen hands and tiny purple spots all over her body.

"Just the condition of this poor baby laying there the way she was. It's a mother's nightmare a father's nightmare," said Kirby. "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."

She said Kenley's mother doesn't want the tragedy to happen to anyone else. She is encouraging others to no only check their children for ticks, but check check animals and make sure pets are treated.

In 2016, there were 581 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Health Department. They said between 2004 and 2014, there were 16 deaths attributed to Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the state.


The Tennessee Health Department says Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis are preventable by avoiding tick bites, promptly removing ticks that do get on the skin and seeking medical care for a fever or rash after a possible tick bite.

"For many people, a bite from a mosquito or tick won't cause much more than an itchy, irritating spot on the skin or sometimes mild, flu-like symptoms," said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. "But for others, a bite can cause a serious illness with major consequences like severe pain, long-term or permanent nerve and brain damage and even death. At this time of year, ‘Fight the Bite' strategies are essential in reducing risk of infection and in preventing the potential spread of disease in communities."

Dr. Dreyzehner says all tick-borne diseases found in Tennessee can be easily treated with antibiotics if detected early. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the antibiotic Doxycycline is the most effective treatment of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. It is the antibiotic recommended for the treatment of most tick-borne diseases in patients of all ages.

Keeping grass trimmed and plants cropped around homes are good practices to prevent ticks. Wearing long sleeves and long pants, using Food and Drug Administration-approved insect repellents and treating clothing with permethrin can help prevent tick and mosquito bites.

More: Keep your kids safe during tick season

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