June 7, 2023

There’s a new warning about a rare tick-borne virus that isn’t Lyme disease, CBS Philadelphia’s Stephanie Stahl reports.

A little boy from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania is recovering from a life-threatening infection also linked to a tick bite.

Jamie Simoson says her 3-year-old son, Jonny, is getting better. He is recovering from a severe infection caused by the Powassan virus.

“Right now, he’s doing really well,” Simoson said.

He found a tick a few weeks before Johnny became ill with a headache and high fever. She took him to the doctor but headed to the emergency room when he continued to get worse.

Johnny was diagnosed with meningoencephalitis.

“Meningitis means that the covering of the brain becomes inflamed and encephalitis means that the brain cells themselves can become inflamed,” said Dr Swathi Gowtham. “And this virus can cause both.”

Gowtham says that without proven treatments, care usually includes fluids, oxygen and anti-seizure drugs.

In Jonny’s case, doctors decided to try IVIG therapy, an infusion of filtered antibodies from blood donors.

“What intravenous immunoglobulin is, it is to other people’s immune systems,” Gowtham said. “Johnny responded really well. If it’s because of the IVIG, I can’t really say, more studies need to be done.”

Johnny went home after almost two weeks in the hospital. He receives rehabilitation, speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

“He has some definite weaknesses on the left side,” Simoson said. “His speech has regressed a little bit. And cognitively, I’d say it’s not necessarily where it was before. But we’re really confident that the progress he’s made will continue.”

And the family raises awareness about tick-borne diseases.

“If we could just help one person get treatment sooner or recognize a symptom sooner or prevent the tick in the first place,” Simoson said, “what we’ve been through will be worth it and it’ll be OK.”

Doctors say the best way to prevent tick bites is to use insect repellent. Powassan virus is difficult to diagnose and is rare. It is mainly located in the northeast.

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