After working at a state park for over a decade, Assistant Park Superintendent Tamela Wilson knew a thing or two about bug bites.
But last May, Wilson suffered a bite that took her life, and now, her family wants to raise awareness of the danger.
Wilson, 58, worked at Meramec State Park in Missouri.
It was May 2017 when she pulled two ticks off her body and became desperately ill just days later.
At first, Wilson’s doctors diagnosed her with a urinary tract infection and sent her on her way with an antibiotic. But Wilson’s health continued to deteriorate at a rapid pace, leaving doctors confounded.
“She literally couldn’t even pick up her phone,” Wilson’s daughter, Amie May, told CBS News. “She had no strength.”
“My sister had been calling her and couldn’t get a hold of her,” Wilson recalled. “My mom said the phone was right there ringing, but she could not pick it up to answer it.”
Hospitalized, Wilson’s health continued to decline. Medical staff personnel were perplexed when Wilson’s blood tests and skin biopsies all came back negative for tick-borne diseases.
Ultimately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed Wilson’s blood. They diagnosed her with the ultra-rare tick-borne illness called Bourbon virus, first documented at a University of Kansas hospital in 2014.
The virus has no cure, and it wasn’t long before Wilson contracted additional infections that caused her death. A severe rash, caused by hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, quickly took over Wilson’s weakened body.
“I’m a nurse and I’ve never seen anything like I’d seen my mother’s mouth,” May said of the rash. “It got so bad toward the end she couldn’t talk, couldn’t drink, couldn’t eat — nothing.”
On June 23, after an approximate three-week hospitalization, Wilson passed away. Her family has spent the last year in shock and grief, and with summer around the corner, they are working to warn others about the possibility of the disease.
“I was somebody, like, I didn’t really give much attention to a tick bite,” May confessed. “You get a bite, pull it out and go about your business.”
Not anymore. With summer just around the corner, make sure you practice tick avoidance while outdoors, and be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms if you do get a bite.
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