In Brief

How Did a Tick Temporarily Paralyze a Little Girl?

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A five-year-old girl in Mississippi temporarily lost the ability to walk after she developed "tick paralysis," a rare condition caused by tick bites.

The girl's mother, Jessica Griffin, first noticed something was wrong last Wednesday morning (June 6), when her daughter Kailyn had trouble getting up to go to daycare.

"As soon as her feet hit the floor, she fell," Griffin told local news outlet Mississippi News Now. "She would try to stand and walk but would continue to fall."

At first, Griffin thought her daughter's legs were just asleep. But while brushing Kailyn's hair, Griffin found a tick in her daughter's scalp. Griffin removed the tick and took her daughter to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with tick paralysis. [5 Weird Effects of Bug Bites]

Tick paralysis is a rare disease that's thought to be caused by a toxin in tick saliva, according to a 2006 report on the condition from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms usually appear about four to seven days after a tick bites a person, and typically go away within 24 hours of tick removal, the CDC said. These symptoms can include an unsteady gait, muscle weakness and eventually, breathing difficulties, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The condition can also lead to flu-like symptoms such as muscles aches and tiredness.

The paralysis is "ascending," which means it starts in the lower body and moves up, the NIH says.

Most previous cases of tick paralysis have been reported in children; typically girls, according to a 2012 report on the condition. Girls often have longer hair than boys, which ticks can attach to and hide in, increasing the risk of tick paralysis, the report said.

Griffin urged parents to check their kids for ticks. Kailyn has now fully recovered and "hasn't slowed down since her feet hit that floor this morning," Griffin posted to Facebook on June 7.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.