A 6-year-old North Carolina girl has died from Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks.
Emilee Russell of Black Mountain, N.C., died Wednesday, two-and-a-half weeks after she was bitten by a tick over Memorial Day weekend, ABC affiliate WLOS reported. Her family was visiting relatives in Texas at the time of the tick bite.
"Just … that pretty little smile … she could just look at you with that smile and break your heart," said Emilee's father, Steve Jones, battalion chief of the Black Mountain Fire Department.
Emilee had just finished kindergarten and lost a front tooth, her teacher told WLOS.
"She was so thrilled that she'd finally lost a tooth like everybody else," said teacher Ashley Styles. "It's hard to think that she's gone."
The American dog tick is the most common source of R. rickettsii, the bacterium behind Rocky Mountain spotted fever, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infection is rare in Texas, affecting one in 1 million people, according to 2010 CDC data, whereas North Carolina has one of the highest rates in the country, with up to 63 cases per 1 million people.
Symptoms of the infection include fever, headache, vomiting, abdominal and muscle pain, and sometimes a rash, according to the CDC.
"Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be severe or even fatal if not treated in the first few days of symptoms," the agency says on its website. "Patients who are treated early may recover quickly on outpatient medication, while those who experience a more severe course may require intravenous antibiotics, prolonged hospitalization or intensive care."
The infection can be prevented by avoiding contact with ticks or quickly removing them from the body as soon as possible, according to the CDC.
The Black Mountain Fire Department is hosting a spaghetti supper June 21 at the Lakeview Center to help raise money to cover Emilee's medical expenses, WLOS reported. Teacher Styles has also planned a "Day for Emilee" at Lake Tomahawk Park July 6.