Family Issues Warning After Girl, 2, Dies of Tick-Borne Disease

Barefoot walks in the grass may not be so harmless, due to ticks. (Photo: Getty Images)
Barefoot walks in the grass may not be so harmless, due to ticks. (Photo: Getty Images)

A 2-year-old girl died on Saturday from what is believed to have been a tick-borne disease.

Kenley Ratliff, of Indiana, was surrounded by friends and family during a several-day stay at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where her condition worsened from a 104-degree fever to a brain infection. While doctors struggled to diagnose the child’s illness, more physical symptoms began to appear, including swollen hands and rashes.

A family friend of the Ratliffs, Nichol Kirby, told WISH-TV that the girl developed an irregular pattern of purple splotches and that the confusion over what caused the girl’s condition made her deterioration even more harrowing.

Kirby explained to the local news outlet that the Ratliff family tended to spend a lot of time outdoors, where they now assume that Kenley might have been bitten by a tick. And sure enough, though a tick bite could not be confirmed (and an autopsy report is pending), doctors eventually identified the illness as Rocky Mountain spotted fever — a tick-borne disease that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is potentially fatal.

Doctors at the hospital prescribed antibiotics for the girl and placed her on a feeding tube during her final days. And now her parents want others to know that similar tragedies can be avoided.

“[The family wants] everyone to be very diligent about checking their children for ticks, checking their animals for ticks, making sure that those pets are treated,” Kirby said.

On a GoFundMe page set up in Kenley’s honor, the family writes, “Now our goal is to spread awareness of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in hopes of saving other children’s lives.”

To that goal, be sure to take the following tick-search precautions as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Bathe within two hours of outdoor exposure.

  • Use a mirror to do thorough checks on high-risk areas (under arms, around ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and in hair).

  • Remember to examine gear and pets, as well.

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