Jessica Griffin had no idea why her daughter’s legs had failed her one morning last week — until a few minutes later when she saw what had crawled into the girl’s hair: a big swollen tick.
The bug had latched on to the scalp of 5-year-old Kailyn, who woke up suddenly unable to walk. By the time Griffin brushed the girl’s hair into a ponytail and spotted the tick, Kailyn had also lost the ability to speak.
The Mississippi mother removed the tick and placed it in a plastic bag. She then rushed Kailyn to the hospital, where she underwent blood tests and a CT scan before doctors diagnosed the girl with tick paralysis.
Griffin shared her frightening ordeal that afternoon on Facebook to raise awareness about the rare condition. The post has since been shared more than 487,000 times.
“PLEASE for the love of god check your kids for ticks! It’s more common in children than it is adults!” she wrote. “We are being admitted to the hospital for observation and we’re hoping her balance gets straightened out! Prayers for this baby! Scary is a UNDERSTATEMENT!”
Tick paralysis is a rare complication from a tick bite, said Dr. Natalie Azar, an NBC News medical contributor.
“There’s thought to be a toxin in the tick saliva that actually gets into your system and can attack the nervous system,” she said.
Tick paralysis usually starts in the lower extremities and moves upward in the body, often about two to six days after the tick bites, Azar said.
The condition is more likely to affect young children than adults because of their smaller body mass. Girls also are more susceptible because the ticks can hide easily in longer hair.
Once the tick is removed, people start to get better as the symptoms begin to disappear.
That's what happened to Griffin's daughter, just hours after her diagnosis.
“Look who is WALKING out of the hospital!! Everything is completely back to normal!” Griffin wrote in a Facebook update.
The following day, she declared that Kailyn had “fully recovered” and was back to her usual self.
“I had no intentions for that post to go as viral as it has but I’m so glad because now I know I’m not the only one out there that hasn’t ever heard of TICK PARALYSIS! It’s definitely a thing and we experienced it first hand!” she said.
Azar said the key to diagnosis is to look carefully for ticks on children who present with symptoms including fatigue, numbness in the leg, or muscle pain — all symptoms that could also mimic a viral infection.
She said if a tick is found, the proper way to remove it is with fine tip tweezers.
“You want to pull very firmly, straight up, and then you want to clean the area with antiseptic after,” she said.
Save the tick in a plastic bag and call the doctor and bring the bag to the examination.
“Even go to an emergency room,” Azar said. “You can have the tick analyzed to see if they’re actually carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.”