Grieving Family Cautions Others Of Tick Bites After Losing 2-Year-Old

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Two-year-old Kenley Ratliff died suddenly, just a week after she first started feeling sick. Her death is the heartbreaking outcome of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a disease contracted from a tick bite. And her grieving family hopes their tragic story will help alert other parents of this tick-borne illness.

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Credit: Kayla Conn via WISH TV / CDC (image of dog tick)

Nowadays, most people think of Lyme disease when they hear about tick bites. But Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is another deadly disease carried by ticks. And the grieving family of Kenley Ratliff hopes more people will be on the lookout for the illness’ symptoms after hearing her story.

"If we could save one child's life then we will have done our job,” said Kenley’s aunt, Jordan Clapp. “Kayla [Kenley's mom] is so devastated. Spreading awareness is therapeutic."

When Kenley of Indiana started burning up with a fever of 103.8 degrees, her mom, Kayla, rushed her to the doctor. The little girl tested positive for strep and doctors sent her home with antibiotics.

Things Get Worse

But the fever didn’t go away. In fact, it got higher over the next few days.

"Now we were on the panicky side," her Aunt Jordan explained. "Some time had passed because doctors told Kayla to wait and let the antibiotics work."

This time, Kayla took Kenley to Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. On the way, the poor child went completely limp and Kayla had to hold her head up.

RELATED: Mom’s warning after baby catches meningitis from shopping cart

The doctors tried switching Kenley’s antibiotics, but still saw no improvement. But then, a rash started to show up on the girl’s arms and legs. It was the first indication that they’d been treating the wrong illness all along.

Other Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever symptoms followed. The girl’s organs started failing, and her brain began swelling. Once doctors realized they were dealing with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever — doxycycline — they switched Kenley over to the right antibiotics.

Sadly, though, it was too late.

A Terrible Shock

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Credit: Kayla Conn via WISH TV

Kenley’s poor family couldn’t believe it. They’d truly thought their daughter had strep, and now she was gone. Test laters confirmed it was in fact from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Hindsight being what it is, the family now says the disease makes more sense.

"She was always outside," Jordan said. "Just recently she had gone camping."

It just never occurred to them at the time that a tick bite was to blame. And that’s exactly why Kenley’s mom want people to hear her daughter’s story.

"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," family friend Nichol Kirby said.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Disease

Dr. Paige Armstrong from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s quite common for the on-set of symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to be ambiguous in children.

"It is a disease that can present with very non-specific signs and symptoms," Dr. Armstrong said. "In the early stages there can be high fever, headache and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The rash tends not to develop until days two or four in children and rashes can be quite common with viruses."

RELATED: Parents warn others of rare disease caused by strep

And unfortunately, the delayed diagnosis resulting from the indistinct symptoms could help explain why this disease is so deadly in children.

"Children less than 10 are at increased risk of fatality," Dr. Armstrong said. "Even though they represent only 6 percent of the cases, they represent 22 percent of the fatal cases."

The earlier the treatment, the better the results. And that’s why Kenley’s family is sharing her tragic story. They are hoping other parents can be spared a similar tragedy.

According to the CDC, the following symptoms could be a sign of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:

  • Fever
  • Rash (occurs 2-5 days after fever, although some people do not develop the rash until late in the disease process, after treatment should have already begun. 10% of people never develop the rash)
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain (may mimic appendicitis or other causes of acute abdominal pain)
  • Muscle pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Conjunctival injection (red eyes)

If caught quickly, treatment is far more likely to be successful. So, if you or anyone you know is bitten by a tick and becomes ill, be sure to check for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Our prayers go out to Kenley’s family. We, too, hope their story will help save other lives.

WATCH: 2-Year-Old Passes Away From Tick-Borne Illness

h/t: Today

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