JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Doctors have addressed concerns this could be an extremely bad year with mosquitoes and other pests due to this year's historic flooding. While mosquitoes are among the most common pests for most residents, another bug is also causing problems.
"If the ticks are on the rabbit or deer, things like that, and they seek higher ground during floods, then you will have a spread of those animals and the disease to different areas," said Dr. Shane Speights, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UAMS.
Speights said Sunday animals were forced out of their natural habitats after the floods, potentially carrying ticks and other parasites closer to humans.
"It can affect any age group. I know this was a 14-year old, but the most common age is age 5. The most common gender is male, but it can affect anybody at any age," said Speights.
A 14-year old girl was diagnosed with tularemia, an illness that occurs from the Francisella tularensis bacteria. The bacterium is primarily found in deer, rodents and rabbits.
"Tularemia is an uncommon infection that can occur primarily in Missouri and really Arkansas. In our area, it spreads primarily through ticks," said Speights. "It can be a fatal disease even if treated. About 1% of the individuals that get treated can still die. Without treatment, about 35% can die if they're untreated for tularemia."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tularemia is most common in Arkansas and Missouri. In Arkansas, 11 cases were confirmed in 2008; however, the number was nearly three times higher in 2003.
In Missouri, 21 cases were confirmed in 2008 for a total of 228 cases since 2000. Click here for more statistics.
Speights said current research suggests the illness cannot be spread human to human. The CDC indicated other insects can also carry the tularemia infection and people can get infected by handling infected animal carcasses, eating or drinking contaminated food or water and by breathing in the bacteria.
Speights said the illness is usually reported in late spring into early summer.
"It can actually occur in the winter time. Deer hunters, rabbit hunters, they can get infected by it if the game they kill are infected by this," said Speights. "Even working out in the lawn, working in the yard, you can get a tick on you, and you don't know if that tick is carrying an infection or not, which is why it's important to have the ticks removed almost immediately once you find them on you."
In early May, a girl was hospitalized from tularemia. According to Barbara Halfacre-Wagner, Leeanne Wagner, an 8th grade girl at Westside Junior High School, was bitten by a tick sometime in April or May.
"She's actually been in the hospital since May 6th. She started out going to Walnut Ridge. They had to take her to the doctor. They thought it might be a kidney infection," said Barbara. "While she was in Walnut Ridge, they (doctors) decided to fill her with more fluids (at direction of Arkansas Children's Hospital) because of dehydration. When they did, it went straight to her lungs. They airlifted her to Little Rock."
Leeanne suffered complications from medicines doctors tried to administer her. Eventually, doctors placed her in a medical induced coma to allow her body to heal.
"They really didn't know what was going on. They didn't know what it was. They didn't find the tick bite until about a week later after she was in the hospital when the nurse went to wash her hair," said Barbara. "It was a tick bite. They don't know if it was a deer tick or a dog tick, but there was a tick bite on the back of her head."
Barbara said she's not sure where Leeanne was bitten.
"It's a dog tick or a deer tick. You go outside, they could have got it outside. They have a dog. It could have come in with the dog. We don't know," said Barbara. "There's nothing that anybody really knows where it could have happened at. You can speculate all you want about where it might have been, could have been, but we don't know."
Sunday night, Barbara said Leeanne is doing better. She's still staying in a room at Arkansas Children's Hospital and is able to speak to friends and family members. Barbara said Leeanne is physically tired from therapy.
"She's laid up so long and hasn't used anything, so she's having to get all of her mobility back," said Barbara. "We're thankful for them (Arkansas Children's Hospital) because they probably saved her life by getting her there when they did."
A prayer page was set up on Facebook for Leeanne Wagner. As of Sunday night, 149 people were part of the group. Click here for more.
"If you're out in a wooded area or even anywhere, the ticks, they can get on you. It's just a good thing to check yourself," said Barbara.
Aside from the Facebook page, students, faculty and staff members at the Westside School District have been collecting money to assist with Leeanne's medical bills.
"We started the donation thing at lunch, and I had my sister, Alex McCollum, to do senior high lunch because I had a court class in 4th period," said Mallorie McCollum, 9th grade student at Westside.
McCollum said students were able to raise approximately $900 for the family. She said the student body continues to take donations.
"It went from people just giving candy out of their lunch boxes to pennies dropping in and started getting five and ten dollar bills and people coming in saying that their moms wanted them to give 100 dollar bills and it was just crazy," said McCollum, who also helped set up a dunking booth and fundraiser at the school.
"I really know it's helped a lot. I don't know the actual reason, but she has no idea how many people are caring for her right now," said McCollum.
McCollum said it was hard to see her best friend in a hospital bed.
"She was to the point to where she was responding a little bit. They took the ventilator out. She could pick up her hand and wave a little bit," said McCollum. "Just seeing Leeanne walking through the hallway and being herself and then just realizing she's going to be put on a ventilator, it's just hard."
Ticks carry other diseases and bacterial infections as well. For more information on where these are most prevalent, click here.
"You can still get infected if you scrape it off or pull it off and twist because you can leave part of the tick still embedded in the skin," said Speights.
Click here for information on the proper method of tick removal.
"Symptoms can start three to five days out. Symptoms are going to be fever, a high fever, joint aches, muscle aches, fatigue and just not feeling good. Sometimes, you can have a cough. Some individuals will have an ulcer where they were bit," said Speights. "If a tick has been on longer than 24 hours, you have a higher risk of getting infected by any of the tick-borne illnesses, not just tularemia."
If detected, Speights said doctors can normally prescribe antibiotics to get rid of the infection.