Health professionals are looking into a rare case of a little girl who was paralyzed after being bitten by an American dog tick.
The 2-year-old was unable to eat or drink — immobilized by a potentially fatal illness — when she was brought to Albany Medical Center this month. Jenna Tomlins woke up May 4 feeling tired and lethargic.
“She couldn’t stand up, she couldn’t really move,” said her mother, Rachel Tomlins, 25, of Hopewell Junction. “I just thought maybe she was tired. She was up late the night before.”
Her mother recalled the girl having trouble drinking.
“That’s when I called the pediatrician,” she said.
The doctor suggested the girl, who had no rash or fever, get some fresh air. When she appeared weaker, she was brought to a local emergency care center.
“The doctor was completely baffled, so we took her to Vassar,” Tomlins said. “She had X-rays, CAT scans, urine analysis, blood tests and a spinal tap. They thought maybe she had botulism.”
But the tests came back negative. By then, the child’s tongue had swelled.
“She couldn’t even cry,” Tomlins said.
The girl was rushed to the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center, where she underwent further testing and was given an intravenous therapy.
“She was very lethargic. She had difficulty opening her eyes,” said Dr. Karen Powers, assistant professor of pediatric neurology at Albany Medical Center. “She couldn’t speak. She had difficulty swallowing. She was profoundly weak. She couldn’t move her arms or legs.”
Powers recognized her symptoms as nearly identical to a case she had seen a few years ago while on a fellowship in Richmond, Va., in which a young child suffered from “tick paralysis.”
“It’s a disorder caused by a neurotoxin secreted most commonly by the American dog tick,” Powers said. “It causes an ascending paralysis. Children will present first with difficulty walking or standing as paralysis ascends. The trunk muscles become involved, and there’s difficulty sitting. Then the face muscles are affected, and they have difficulty speaking and swallowing. Eventually, the respiratory muscles become involved, and that can lead to an inability to breathe. Cases can be fatal.”