On Tuesday morning, after his father came to his bedroom and told him to get ready for school, 13-year-old Daniel Smith couldn't move his...
On Tuesday morning, after his father came to his bedroom and told him to get ready for school, 13-year-old Daniel Smith couldn’t move his body to get down from his bunk bed. He couldn’t lift his legs or even swallow.
Daniel, who had been shooting hoops near his Normandy Park home a few days earlier, was temporarily paralyzed, his doctor later determined.
The cause: a tick found along his hairline at the nape of his neck.
Tick paralysis, though relatively rare, occurs most often in the Western states, the Rocky Mountains and Western Canada, said Rebecca Baer, epidemiologist for the Washington State Department of Health.
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Paralysis of the sort Daniel experienced is likely caused by a toxin secreted in the tick’s saliva; the paralysis goes away fairly quickly once the tick is removed, typically within 24 hours. But if the tick is not removed in time, about 10 percent of victims die from respiratory paralysis, health officials said. Other symptoms of tick-borne illness include flulike symptoms — muscle aches, nausea, joint pains, fatigue.
Liz Dykstra, entomologist for the Washington State Department of Health, said the Rocky Mountain wood tick and American dog tick — the two species often associated with tick paralysis, are found here. In Western Washington, people aren’t accustomed to finding ticks, and they and their health-care providers may not suspect ticks when symptoms start, Dykstra said.
“If you live in the Southeast, you’re trained to check yourself over,” she said. “People here don’t expect to find ticks. But they are more common than you’d think.”
In Daniel’s case, the tick came from the Teanaway River area, near Cle Elum, where the Smith family was camping with friends during Memorial Day weekend. Another father on the trip found a tick on his son’s head and called the Smiths to suggest they check for ticks.
Stu Smith said he checked his son throughly the day after they camped but saw no ticks.
The first noticeable symptom came a week later, on Monday morning, when Daniel felt his back go slightly numb. After school, his left leg was so weak, a neighbor had to help him get into his house.
Because Daniel had started wearing a back brace for a medical condition, his parents consulted with their doctor’s office; they suspected his body was adjusting to the brace.
But the next morning, Daniel could barely squeeze his mother’s hand, and he had no feeling in his lower body.
His father checked his head again and found a dark-tan tick the size of a raisin.
Ticks can be hard to detect at first, but within days, they can ingest enough blood to grow to the size of an M&M.
Daniel was treated at Children’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center and could stand with some assistance about 6 ½ hours after the tick was removed. He was back in class by Thursday.
Although two cases of tick paralysis were reported in Washington last year, doctors aren’t required to report cases of it, said Baer, the epidemiologist.
From the mid-1940s to the mid-1990s, when reporting was required, only 33 cases occurred. Those included two children, both of whom died. Most people picked up the ticks in Eastern Washington between mid-March and late June.
Seattle Times staff reporter Carol Ostrom contributed to this report.
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