British Columbia

Tick bite leads to Langley toddler's temporary paralysis

A Langley toddler is healthy and playing outside again after a frightening experience after being bitten by a tick. The child spent three days in hospital before the paralysis had subsided.

Malia Radmore's mother believes she picked up the tick at a local park and showed symptoms days later

Malia Radmore, 2, was entirely paralyzed, according to her mother Melissa Radmore, after she was bitten by a tick in Langley. (Melissa Radmore)

Malia Radmore is usually an energetic toddler, running around, so when she began crawling on Wednesday, her mother Melissa Radmore just thought she was playing.

But when it was time to stand her up for a snack, Radmore was surprised to see her daughter collapse.

"I tried to get her to stand again, and she collapsed again," said Radmore, who lives in Langley, B.C.

Soon, paramedics arrived, and the 2½-year-old was taken to Langley Memorial Hospital, before being transferred to B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver.

Radmore said doctors and technicians ran a series of tests trying to figure out what was wrong — meanwhile the condition worsened.

'We didn't think she was going to make it'

"She was deteriorating. She couldn't — it started with her legs — she couldn't walk. It went to her arms, it went to her head. She wasn't able to swallow herself. She was totally paralyzed," she said.

Radmore said the medical focus was on her daughter's brain, with doctors wondering if there was a tumour causing a neurological issue.

But then she said she made a discovery that revealed the problem.

"We were laying in bed and I was playing with her hair," said Radmore. "All of a sudden, I felt something in her hair. I thought maybe it was gum, because it looked like gum. So I went to pull it out and it moved."

The female Rocky Mountain wood tick has a white shield near its head. (Government on B.C.)

It was a tick — an engorged tick that had been feeding for days.

Radmore said the doctors removed the arachnid, which seemed to lead to a further decline in her daughter's condition.

"When they pulled the tick out it released more toxins," she said. "She was on her deathbed, literally she was deteriorating in front of us. We didn't think she was going to make it, and it was really scary."

But within about 18 hours, Malia had begun to improve. She was discharged from hospital on Saturday.

Melissa Radmore figured her daughter picked up the tick last Saturday, when they were at Langley's Williams Park. She said the doctors told her it was a Rocky Mountain wood tick, although they are typically found east of the Coast Mountains.

Paralysis from ticks is rare

A spokesperson with the Provincial Health Services Authority confirmed Malia was diagnosed with tick paralysis from a Rocky Mountain wood tick bite on her scalp, and spent four days in hospital.

After a few days in the hospital struggling against paralysis caused by a tick, Malia Radmore is back to health and happy to swing in her yard. (Jim Mulleder/CBC)

Paralysis from a tick bite is quite rare. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control doesn't officially track cases, but its public health lab typically consults on zero to two cases each year.

According to HealthLink B.C., paralysis is caused by the venom secreted by female ticks when feeding, and symptoms typically begin four to seven days after a tick attaches itself to a person. Paralysis from a tick bite is more common in children than adults.

On Monday, the toddler appeared to be fully recovered. She was seen smiling, digging in the garden at the family's Langley home, swinging in the swing set, and even jumping on a trampoline.

Tick tips

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) warns pets and people are at risk of tick exposure in wooded and grassy areas. It recommends keeping home grass cut short, moving wood piles away from the the house and children's play sets away from wooded areas.

Wearing long-sleeved, light-coloured clothing, tucking pants into socks and wearing insect repellant containing DEET on uncovered skin can reduce the risk of being bitten outside, the BCCDC says.

If a tick does attach itself, it can be removed if it is not buried too deep into the skin. Don't use your fingers to remove a tick, but use tweezers to gently lift it straight off without squeezing it or jerking it out.

Once the tick has been removed, clean the bite area with soap and water then apply an antiseptic cream. BCCDC then recommends asking a health-care professional for further advice.

If a tick has buried itself into your skin you should seek medical attention immediately.

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Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

With files from Yvette Brend