PHILADELPHIA -- There's a new warning about a rare virus caused by ticks, and it's not Lyme disease. A little boy from Luzerne County is recovering from a life-threatening infection also linked to a tick bite.
Jamie Simoson says her 3-year-old son Jonny is improving. He's recovering from a severe infection caused by Powassan virus.
"Right now, he's doing really well," Simoson said.
She spotted a tick a couple of weeks before Jonny got sick with a headache and high fever. She took him to the doctor but headed to the emergency room when he continued to deteriorate.
Jonny was diagnosed with meningoencephalitis.
"Meningitis means the covering of the brain gets inflamed and encephalitis means the brain cells themselves can get inflamed," Dr. Swathi Gowtham said. "And this virus can cause both."
Gowtham says with no proven treatments, care usually includes fluids, oxygen and seizure medications.
In Jonny's case, doctors decided to try IVIG therapy, an infusion of filtered antibodies from blood donors.
"What intravenous immunoglobulin is, it is other people's immune system," Gowtham said. "Jonny responded very well. Whether it is due to IVIG, I cannot really say, more studies need to be done."
Jonny went home after nearly two weeks in the hospital. He receives rehabilitation, speech, occupational and physical therapy.
"He has some clear left side weaknesses," Simoson said. "His speech has regressed just a little. And cognitively, I would say he's not necessarily where he was before. But we're really confident that the progress that he has made will just continue."
And the family is raising awareness about tick-borne illnesses.
"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, "everything that we went through would be worth it and he's going to be OK."
Doctors say the best way to prevent tick bites is to use insect repellants. Powassan virus is difficult to diagnose and is rare. It's found mostly in northeastern states.
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