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Tick bite puts local mother's life in jeopardy- how you can protect yourself this season

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This area of Florida is known for its outdoor activities— but it's also home to ticks.

Two days after a simple tick bite outside her Old Town home, Emily Sorensen’s body was shutting down.

“My daughter noticed, and all she told me was, ‘mommy, what’s wrong with your face,’” Sorensen said. “I told her she needed to get the neighbor next door, she kind of freaked out and my body started turning purple.”

Emily’s body was reacting to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever—the most deadly of all tick-born illnesses.

“The agent that causes it, it is kind of unusual in that it doesn’t circulate around in your blood, but it actually infects the cells that line your blood vessels,” said Nicole Iovine, an infectious disease physician at UF Health. “Those cells malfunction, they can rupture and you get bleeding under the skin.”

That bleeding caused the spots that spread across Sorensen’s body.

For six days Sorensen waited on a diagnosis. Doctors kept her on 100 percent oxygen as her organs began to shut down.

“I knew it was serious, but I didn’t think I was going to die,” Sorensen said.

Now two months later, Sorensen still can’t walk.

She’s lost feeling in her right foot because of severe nerve damage and still hasn’t regained full strength in her hands.

“You can have so much disruption of your blood vessels that you can’t even get blood circulating properly to your limbs, your hands and your feet,” Iovine said.

“I’m okay with losing my foot, as sad as it is to say. Because I’m alive and I never thought something like this would happen,” Sorensen said.

The Florida Department of Health says the majority of RMSP cases in Florida happen here in the north-central region, with it’s peak in the coming summer months.

The key to any tick-born illness is prevention or early detection.

When outdoors, use an insect repellent containing deet and always do a thorough body check when you come back inside.

“You want to use forceps and pull it straight up and out,” Iovine said. “You don’t want to squish the tick or burn the tick, or do anything like that because you can release the bacterium.”

Take every bite seriously and be alert for any unusual symptoms.

“Whether or not you know you’ve been bit by a tick, if you’ve been outdoors and you develop a fever, headache and importantly a rash, that is not something to wait on,” Iovine said.

It's also important to check your dogs for ticks, especially behind their ears. Ticks biting dogs can bite you as well.

Remove it the same way you would a person, and make sure it is dead once it's removed.

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