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home : most recent : statewide implications August 17, 2017

6/15/2017 10:27:00 AM
Suspicion about 2-year-old's cause of death heightens concerns about tick-borne illness
Rocky Mountain spotted fever symptoms include:

• High fever.

• Chills.

• Severe headache.

• Muscle aches.

• Nausea and vomiting.

• Restlessness and insomnia.

• Distinctive red, non-itchy rash.


Jonathan Streetman, Herald-Times

A tick bite is suspected of causing the death of a 2-year-old girl from the Plainfield area after she developed symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a deadly tick-borne disease that local health experts say can be easily treated if caught early.

Kenley Ratliff died June 4 at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in Indianapolis, eight days after she first started exhibiting symptoms of a fever. The family had recently gone camping, according to a USA Today story, when Kenley spiked a 103.8 fever. After a positive test for strep throat, doctors prescribed amoxicillin — a common antibiotic — and told Kenley’s mom, Kayla Conn, to keep her hydrated.

Kenley’s fever refused to break, and she was eventually taken to Riley, where doctors noticed a rash with red spotting on Kenley’s arm, a symptom of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Her brain began to swell and organs started to fail, also symptoms of the disease. She was switched to the drug doxycycline, but did not survive.  

No definitive cause of death has been reported. The family is awaiting test results to confirm whether Kenley did indeed have RMSF.

Dr. Charles McCalla, a physician at Indiana University Health Bloomington Urgent Care Center, said it would be easy to miss something as uncommon as RMSF.

“I’ve had a couple of people in my 30 years in this clinic where I had a suspicion that it might be Rocky Mountain spotted fever. I don’t think I ever saw confirmation in either of those cases, and both patients survived,” McCalla said. “I think it would be a very easy diagnosis to miss. And in a 2-year-old? That’s a tough diagnosis. Could have happened to the best of us.”

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