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Mother Shares Warning After 7-Year-Old Daughter Gets Rare Tick Paralysis From Camping Trip

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockJun 25 2019, 12:40 UTC

The lone star tick can do something very strange to your immune system. Elizabeth Nicodemus/Flickr

A mother from Colorado has shared a warning on Facebook after her daughter suffered a rare form of paralysis following an overnight camping trip.

Heidi Ganahl's daughter Jenna camped overnight near Bailey, Colorado, CBS Denver reports. When she returned, Heidi found a few ticks in her daughter's hair. 


"It’s taken me a week to write this as it was so scary but I want to tell my friends with little ones in their lives to be on alert," she wrote in a post on Facebook. "Jenna, our lil [sic] 7-year-old, came home from her first overnight camp with a couple of ticks on her head hidden in her hair. I took them off, called the doctor and kept an eye on the bite wounds."

Jenna began to feel ill, but doctors didn't believe the tick bites were a big deal. She started to feel worse, and 10 days after returning from her camping trip, her lower leg and foot went into paralysis.

"Her foot and shin went to 'sleep'," Ganahl wrote. "[I] had a bad feeling, called the Dr and they said to bring her in."

She took her to the Children's Hospital Colorado in Anschutz. The doctors investigated and determined she had tick paralysis, an infectious disease caused by a neurotoxin produced in the salivary glands of ticks. If the tick remains attached for long enough, or a part of the tick is left behind when removing it, the toxin can be transferred to the host. 


"It was only caught because of the great docs (most CU School of Medicine) that recognized the similarities to two other cases in recent weeks there (it’s extremely rare so it was very abnormal to see 3 cases in 3 weeks)," Ganahl said.

Signs to look out for if you believe you may have been bitten by a tick. CDC.

It turned out some of the tick had been left in Jenna's scalp, which the doctors removed. After removing a tick, paralysis usually subsides within 24 hours.

"It was a terrifying 12 hours as we waited to see if they were able to remove the tiny bit of tick left in her producing the toxin," Ganahl wrote. "The only fix is to get it out or things get very bad."

If a tick is undetected or misdiagnosed, "tick paralysis can lead to respiratory failure or even death with a reported mortality rate of 10-12%," according to a 2017 study of tick paralysis in British Columbia.


Fortunately, that didn't happen to Jenna and her symptoms did indeed clear up upon removal. "She is ok!" her mother confirmed. "Other then never wanting to go into the woods again."

Ganahl ended the post with advice for parents during the summer season, when kids are more likely to play outdoors. 

"I learned more about ticks than I ever wanted to know – the wet weather makes for a bad tick season, check your little ones often, if you find one remove them with tweezers and scrub the wound to clean it out thoroughly with soap and water to make sure you get it all, then watch for symptoms for 14 days. Take it seriously this year."

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