December 7, 2023

  • A toddler contracted a rare, potentially fatal tick-borne virus and is now paralyzed on one side of his body.
  • Two weeks after a tick bite, he was hospitalized with a headache and a fever of over 104 degrees.
  • The boy was diagnosed with Powassan virus disease and treated with unproven antibody therapy.

A toddler in Pennsylvania contracted a rare tick-borne virus while swimming in a neighbor’s pool and is now lame on the left side of his body, according to news reports.

Jonny Simoson, 3, was in good health when his mum, Jamie, spotted a live tick on his right shoulder. he told the New York Post. Simonson told the Post she easily removed it tick with a tweezer within 15 minutes, leaving a “tiny red bump”.

But two weeks later he began complaining of headaches, became unusually sleepy and had a fever of more than 103 degrees, Simoson said, according to the New York Post.

After two visits to the pediatrician, Simoson took Jonny to the emergency room. The next 12 days were a blur of MRIs and CT scans, a spinal tap, antibiotics and antivirals as doctors investigated the cause of his symptoms, first on a general ward and then in the pediatric intensive care unit. Eventually, after ruling out other causes, doctors diagnosed him with meningoencephalitis caused by the Powassan virus, Simoson wrote in a blog post.

“It was so frustrating looking for an answer. We were terrified that we might not come home with our child,” Simoson said, according to the New York Post.

Powassan virus, transmitted by deer ticks, is rare

People catch Powassan virus from infected black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. It is typically diagnosed by examining the spinal fluid.

The data suggest between six and 39 cases are reported to the CDC each year; mainly in the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region in late spring, early summer and mid-fall when deer ticks are most active.

Most people do not have any symptoms, but the virus can cause confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking, and seizures if it infects the brain or its membranes.

About 1 in 10 people who get severe illness from Powassan virus disease die, and about half of those who survive are left with long-term muscle and strength loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meningoencephalitis, Jonny’s diagnosis, is a serious condition where the brain and the delicate tissues surrounding it become inflamed.

black-legged tick on a blade of grass

Black-legged ticks can transmit Powassan virus.

Ladislav Kubeš/Getty Images

Johnny was treated with antibodies

There are no proven cures for Powassan virus disease, so most people with severe disease are treated in hospital with supportive measuresincluding IV fluids and oxygen.

However, Jonny was tackled five doses of antibodies to fight the disease from blood donors, a treatment called intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), which has been used to treat wolf and children with heart deseases.

Dr. Swathi Gowtham, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Danville, Pennsylvania who was involved in the case, he told CBS Philly that Johnny responded “very well” to the treatment he was given.

“Whether it’s because of the IVIG, I can’t really say, more studies need to be done” on the use of IVIG for Powassan virus, he said.

Jonny was discharged after 12 days but was lame on one side of his body and required physical rehabilitation and speech therapy. According to the New York Post, his parents had to teach him how to eat and drink again.

“Johnny wasn’t walking yet and his balance was bad.” Simonson wrote. “We knew we had a lot of work to do, but we were up for the challenge,” he said.

“We’re really confident that the progress he’s made will continue,” Simoson said CBS Philly.

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