A mother in Mississippi is urging parents to look out for ticks after her daughter was temporarily paralyzed by a tick bite.
Last Wednesday morning, Jessica Griffin said she woke up to find her daughter Kailyn unable to walk. Griffin initially thought the girl’s legs were asleep, but took her to the hospital when she was unable to speak coherently.
Staff at the University Medical Centre of Mississippi discovered a tick embedded in the girl’s scalp that had caused her temporary paralysis. According to Griffin’s Facebook posts, her daughter was discharged later that day and has recovered normally.
Tick paralysis is a very rare illness caused by neurotoxins found in certain species’ saliva. It interferes with normal neuromuscular function, causing irritability, fatigue, muscle exhaustion and prickling sensations in the limbs. After the tick has been engorged for multiple days, paralysis usually starts in the lower limbs and works its way up the body, eventually affecting the respiratory system where it can become fatal. Despite its seriousness, the condition is easy to treat.
“Once the tick is found and removed, recovery is very rapid,” said Robbin Lindsay, a Public Health Agency of Canada research scientist who specializes in ticks.
Ticks can be found in wooded and grassy areas on low-growing plants and tree stumps. They tend to bite humans in body parts that offer them some protection – joints, groin, beltline, and underneath hair on the neck and head.
In Canada, tick species that can cause paralysis are found mostly in Southern British Columbia and Manitoba, but other species, like known Lyme-disease carriers blacklegged ticks, are aggressively expanding into new territory, even urban areas.
“We certainly think that climatic conditions are more permissive for ticks to move into a different area,” said Lindsay.
To prevent tick bites, experts urge anyone spending time in wooded or grassy areas to wear insect repellant, socks, hats, long pants, and long sleeves. Lindsay says that even people in urban areas should check their body for tick bites if they have been outside for a while. Parents should be extra cautious as children are especially vulnerable to tick-related infections.
There were 992 Lyme disease cases in 2016, 6 times more than in 2009, when thefederal government began tracking the illness.
“We are going to be encountering more and more cases because we are seeing more and more ticks,” said Jim Wilson, President of Canada Lyme Disease Foundation. “We have to start taking ticks more seriously.”