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Toddler dies from possible tick bite: 'It happened so fast and we couldn't do anything about it'

Posted at 3:17 PM, Jun 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-08 12:31:33-04

PLAINFIELD, Ind. -- Family members believe a tick bite may be to blame for a central Indiana toddler’s death over the weekend.

Two-year-old Kenley Ratliff's family are sharing her story to warn other parents about how dangerous tick bites can be, especially for young children. 

"She just glowed everywhere she went," said Kenley's aunt, Jordan Clapp. "That white hair made her stand out, and she had big brown eyes."

Ratliff's family say the toddler went from a healthy happy little girl to dangerously sick in just one week.

It started as a high fever. Doctors told Kenley's parents that she likely had a virus - perhaps strep throat - but antibiotics just weren't helping. 

On day five, the fever hadn't passed, and Kenley went limp. Her mother rushed her to Riley Hospital for Children. 

"At Riley, she closed her eyes and she never opened them again," said Clapp. 

Kenley died at Riley Hospital for Children on Sunday. 

Clapp said before Kenley died a rash appeared, one that they were told was likely caused by Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which is spread by ticks. 

"I just can't believe a tiny thing can be so destructive to such a little baby that's so innocent," said Clapp. 

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a rare, tick-borne illness that’s on the rise in Indiana. Symptoms typically include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting and muscle pain. Many people who suffer from RMSF also develop a rash.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease is spread to humans by the bite of an infected tick species. 

Family members are still waiting for the autopsy results, which could take two weeks, to determine what exactly killed their little girl, but they believe they already know the answer.

"I'm so thankful that I got to spend the two years and Kayla's thankful she even had the two years she had with her daughter," said Clapp. "Her father, Stony, is so thankful for the memories we have now."

"We don't want any family to go through what we did," said Clapp. "It just happened so fast and we couldn't do anything about it. She was just laying there in the hospital living off of a breathing tube and we couldn't do a thing for her."

The Indiana Department of Health says 40 cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever were reported in 2016 and 30 cases were reported in 2015. Because of the warm winter, experts are warning Hoosiers that this year could be an especially bad year for ticks. 

RELATED | Experts warn of deadly tick-borne disease on the rise in the Great Lakes region

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story reported statistics from the Indiana Dept. of Health website that detailed only 5 cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever had been reported in each of the last five years. An updated version of those numbers was made available via the health department that showed there were in fact 40 cases reported in 2016 and 30 in 2015.