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Minnesota boy diagnosed with rare, deadly tickborne disease is released from hospital

U of M Public Health expert says to perform daily skin checks for the tick that lives in dry environments, along with brush and tall grass.

BUFFALO, Minn. — We recently reported on a growing tick population. Now we're learning about several cases of a disease you can get from a tick bite that is rarely seen in Minnesota - and it nearly killed an infant from Buffalo.

Gino Pahl spent the last two weeks in the hospital. The one-year-old was diagnosed with the tickborne disease called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF).

"That night they didn't know," explained his aunt Michelle Pahl. "It was a 50/50 percent chance he'd make it through the night."

Experts say RMSF is rarely found in Minnesota. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention report as few as three to seven cases in the state a year, although the wood tick that carries the bacteria is common here, according to a U of M entomologist.

"You're going to find wood ticks in much drier environments than you would find deer ticks, so wood ticks can survive in brushy areas and even (tall) grass," said Jon Oliver, a public health entomologist with the University of Minnesota who specializes in vector-borne diseases. 

He says the disease is also difficult to pinpoint - Pahl says it took doctors several days to diagnose Gino who had the telltale rash and fever.

"No one in that hospital, is what I heard, has seen a case like that," Pahl said.

While Oliver explained that it is treatable in children and adults with antibiotics. "With treatment, survival rates are good, but without treatment the disease is often fatal," he said.

Gino also has weeks of physical therapy ahead after being released from the hospital on Saturday. His family thinks he got bit in their neighborhood - a new housing development in Buffalo. 

It's important to do daily skin checks for the wood tick which can be easier to spot than the deer tick because it's bigger. The deer tick often carries Lyme disease.

Oliver said there is another known case of RMSF in Buffalo. And Pahl says doctors are also testing Gino's sister for RMSF because she had similar symptoms, but wasn't hospitalized. A neighbor of the Pahl family is also reporting their dog had a tick and is now severely ill.

Citing research, Oliver says dogs are highly susceptible to infection as well. 

The family is also in touch with the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health to investigate further. 

Michelle Pahl set up a fundraiser to help the family recover from mounting medical bills after Gino's time at Children's Hospital. The donations are for that and she says any extra will be donated to the hospital. If you would like to help the family, you can click here

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