Amanda Lewis’ family hadn’t been hiking recently. They hadn’t been to the mountains or to the woods surrounding their home near La Grande, Ore. So when her 3-year-old daughter, Evelyn, suddenly seemed unable to stand, the idea that a bug bite was to blame never even occurred to her.
Amanda said the illness started off with Evelyn in a cranky mood one evening in mid-May — not terribly unusual for a toddler.
“But the next morning when she still wouldn’t stand, that’s when I really became concerned,” Amanda told the Statesman in a Facebook message.
She said her husband, Lantz, has a history of cancer, and the couple worried Evelyn could be suffering from something similar. So they headed to the hospital.
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There, Evelyn’s doctor had a theory. In the past 15 years, he had seen about seven or eight toddlers with similar symptoms. He thought Evelyn may have been bitten by a tick.
“He combed through her hair really well, and after a minute, sure enough (he) found the tick hidden under her hair,” Amanda said.
The doctor removed the tick with tweezers and cleaned up the bite mark. The Lewis family stayed at the hospital for about 2 1/2 hours while doctors kept an eye on Evelyn, then headed home.
Within 24 hours, Evelyn was more or less back to normal, Amanda said.
“I couldn’t believe that a little bug was doing that to my daughter,” she said.
What is tick paralysis?
Evelyn’s official diagnosis was tick paralysis, a condition caused by neurotoxins in the saliva of an egg-carrying female tick. If it progresses too far, the disease can cause respiratory failure and death.
“The doctor told us that usually just getting the tick off is all you need to start recovering, and as long as Evelyn didn’t develop a fever or ... other symptoms that she would be just fine with no medication,” Amanda said.
Evelyn’s doctor also suggested the Lewises share their story with friends and family so that others could protect themselves. So Amanda took to Facebook, where she posted a video taken before they headed to the hospital of Evelyn struggling to stand, supported by Lantz.
“This morning (Evelyn) was having a hard time standing. She could barely walk, or crawl, and could hardly use her arms,” Amanda wrote.
The post exploded. By Wednesday morning, it had been shared more than 615,000 times and viewed more than 20 million times.
“Honestly we were not prepared for this at all! We initially shared the video after Evelyn had been treated to fill in our family & friends on what had happened,” Amanda said. “A couple of people asked if they could share our post and it just took off from there.
“People in general have been so grateful that we’ve shared this information and have been so happy for us that Evelyn is now alright. We’ve been able to bring an awareness to something not many people knew of, which is incredible.”
Though tick paralysis is most common in dogs, it can also affect small children, particularly in the Rocky Mountain States and Pacific Northwest. Amanda urged others to spray their property for ticks, buy repellant medication for pets and use bug spray on themselves when outdoors.
“They are common in this area in the woods, and we had been hearing that this was going to be a really bad year for ticks,” Amanda said. “We just never thought we’d have to worry about them in our backyard.”
What to know about tick paralysis
- Tick paralysis is caused by more than 40 species of ticks worldwide, five of which are common in the United States
- Symptoms usually begin five to seven days after attachment, which usually occurs on the scalp near the hairline
- Symptoms begin with fatigue, leg numbness and muscle pains. They progress to upper extremities, tongue and facial paralysis, convulsions and respiratory failure. Eventually, tick paralysis can be fatal.
- Two-thirds of tick paralysis cases occur in young females
- The condition can also affect dogs, which show similar symptoms to humans