6-year-old's death from tick bite in Texas prompts awareness


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist John Fisher

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Posted on June 17, 2013 at 6:42 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 17 at 7:00 PM

A six-year-old girl has died from the infection caused by a tick bite. She was vacationing in Texas over the Memorial Day weekend when she was bitten.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the illness has increased during the last decade, but during the same time period, fatalities have actually decreased.

Emilee Russell, 6, was from North Carolina -- a state where Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is fairly common. It's not that common in Texas. Emilee was bitten by a tick while visiting relatives. She passed away last Wednesday.

That was sad news for those at Auditorium Shores just learning about her death.

"A six-year-old kid living life and just happens to be sick -- it's sad really," said Julian Chavira of Round Rock.

Exactly what causes the illness?  

"It's a very small bacteria that lives inside cells of the vascular system -- the blood vessels primarily," said Dr. Lewis Leibovich, M.D., Emergency Medicine with St. David's Urgent Care in Pflugerville.
The CDC says there are three kinds of ticks that carry the illness in the U.S.

"The mortality of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be has high - even with treatment - as five percent," said Leibovich. "Without it it's about 25 percent. In really elderly people it can be 75 percent, so it's not something to play around with."

Chavira knows that first hand. During U.S. Army Reserve training he recalls brushing up against ticks.

"We were lucky I didn't find anything bitten on me," he said. "They were crawling, so I was like, 'hurry and get it off of me.'"

Among the things health agencies recommend you do to prevent tick diseases:
1. Wear light-colored clothes. This makes it easier to spot a tick on you or a family member.
2. Tuck your pants into your socks so ticks cannot crawl in between.
3. Closely check under your child's and pet's hair where ticks love to hide.

"I'm kind of new to this whole dog thing, so there's still a lot I have to figure out," said Paige Baize, an Austin resident. "It scares me to know that something like that is out there."

While North Carolina is the state that has the most reported cases of tick related illnesses, the state with the second most is not along the East Coast, it's Oklahoma.