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Don’t take another bite

Fri., June 10, 2011

Mia Bradford, 6, is on the road to recovery in the arms of her mother, Courtney, after tick bites gave her Rocky Mountain spotted fever. (Dan Pelle)
Mia Bradford, 6, is on the road to recovery in the arms of her mother, Courtney, after tick bites gave her Rocky Mountain spotted fever. (Dan Pelle)

Mia Bradford didn’t know anything was wrong. And then her mom screamed.

As the 6-year-old kindergartener bounded out of Summit School in Spokane Valley on May 17 and ran to her waiting parents Courtney and Jared Bradford, she had a big bloody spot on her neck.

Mia’s hair had been put into French braids and then spun into two buns a la “Star Wars” heroine Princess Leia.

Her parents quickly dabbed the blood and noticed the head of a tick embedded in her hairline.

Her dad grabbed his medical kit and used tweezers to pluck it out. When they got home Mia received a thorough tick check and took a soapy bath.

What happened over the next two weeks was “just plain scary,” Courtney Bradford said.

Hours later a second engorged tick burst at her hairline – leaving another bloody spot the size of a quarter on her neck. The two bite sites swelled up.

“At this point we’re just creeped out,” Courtney Bradford said.

“Poor Mia was like a Granny’s buffet,” cracked her dad.

Jokes aside, Mia contracted Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a tick-borne disease that if left undiagnosed and untreated can be serious, even fatal. It’s rare that people get sick from tick bites. State health officials say there between zero and three cases of the disease in Washington state each year.

Mia hasn’t been back to school since and misses her friends and teacher. Instead she has made multiple trips to the doctor, spent a day in the pediatric emergency room at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, and been advised to keep out of the sun and limit play dates as she takes doses of a rugged antibiotic that has temporarily weakened her immune system.

Her parents wanted to share Mia’s story as a means to encourage parents to watch their children after a tick bite. In the days following the bite, Mia didn’t feel well and cried often.

Normally full of spunk, she lapsed into episodes where she would seem to “space out,” they said.

Then on Day 10 she spiked a fever of 103.7 degrees, and her ears turned raspberry red. Her joints ached and she had stomach cramps.

Tylenol didn’t work and then she broke out into rash that spread from her arm to her hands, ankles and feet. She couldn’t eat and lost four pounds – 10 percent of her body weight.

Her doctor suspected Rocky Mountain spotted fever and instructed her parents to get to the ER at Sacred Heart.

That’s where they met Dr. Jesse Atwood.

He listened as they recounted the bite and symptoms, and moved quickly to put Mia on doxycycline, a powerful medication with some negative side effects – but a better alternative than leaving the fever unchecked.

Atwood said initial blood tests have tested positive for the rare disease. He also urged parents to pay attention to their children’s symptoms after tick bites.

Insect bites are nothing new to Atwood and emergency rooms. Usually patients come in with bites from hobo spiders or have allergic reactions to bites from mosquitoes and other pests.

The Spokane Regional Health District has encouraged residents this spring to wear light-colored clothing with sleeves and to undergo tick checks after venturing outside.

Mia just hopes the episode won’t derail her summer. Once she completely heals she plans to spend plenty of time at the swimming pool and playing with friends.

For now, she is pretending to camp by playing in a tent set up in the basement of her home – where there are no ticks.

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