As summer vacation season gets underway, the tragic story of a 2-year-old Indiana girl is a stark reminder to parents to keep their eyes peeled for ticks while their families are enjoying the great outdoors.
Ticks are vectors of a number of dangerous diseases, including Lyme disease, Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), a newly discovered disease that makes you allergic to mammal meat, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Most of these ailments aren’t fatal in adults, but they can trigger a series of dangerous symptoms. In children whose immune systems are still developing, these and other tick-borne diseases can prove to be fatal.
Kenley Conn was a playful 2-year-old until a fever that topped 103 degrees convinced her parents to rush her to the local emergency room. “She was always outside,” her aunt, Jordan Clapp, told Today. “Just recently she had gone camping.”
When the doctors examined the little girl, they assumed she was suffering from a virus or a bacterial infection. They prescribed the antibiotic amoxicillin and told her parents to make sure she remained hydrated.
A day later, the little girl’s fever had reached 104 degrees. Back at the ER, doctors told Kenley’s parents that it was strep and encouraged them to give the amoxicillin and hydration therapy time to work.
On day five of her high fever, the family headed to the regional Children’s Hospital.
It was only when they were there that the family and doctors began to notice a red rash spreading on the little girl’s arms and legs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Initial signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever often are nonspecific and can mimic those of other illnesses: high fever; chills; severe headache; muscle aches; nausea and vomiting; restlessness and insomnia.”
A “red, nonitchy rash…typically appears a few days after the initial signs and symptoms begin. The rash usually makes its first appearance on your wrists and ankles, and can spread in both directions—down into the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, and up your arms and legs to your torso.”
“Along with the rash,” Today explained, “Kenley started showing other symptoms of the tick-borne disease: Her brain began to swell and her organs started to fail. By the time doctors started to treat the little girl with the right antibiotic for Rocky Mountain spotted fever—doxycycline—it was too late for the little girl.”
Eight days after their first visit to the ER, Kenley “became an angel,” as her aunt put it on a GoFundMe page created to help the family cover medical and funeral expenses.
Following the unexpected tragedy, Kenley’s family has tried to spread awareness about the dangers of Rocky Mountain spotted fever to other families.
The Mayo Clinic says to “see your doctor if you develop a rash or become sick after a tick bite. Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other infectious diseases carried by ticks can progress rapidly and may be life-threatening. If possible, take the tick along with you to your doctor’s office for laboratory testing.”
“If we could save one child’s life then we will have done our job,” Clapp told Today. “Kayla [Kenley’s mom] is so devastated. Spreading awareness is therapeutic.”
“[Kenley] was a blessing on earth,” her aunt says, “and now she’s a blessing in heaven, still touching and impacting so many people.”