Boy, 3, hospitalized with tick-borne Powassan virus, body limp

  • A toddler has caught a rare, life-threatening tick-borne virus, and now one side of his body is soft.
  • Two weeks after a tick bite, he was hospitalized with headaches and fevers over 104 degrees.
  • The boy was diagnosed with Powassan virus disease and was treated with an unproven antibody therapy.

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

Jonny Simoson, 3, was healthy when his mother, Jamie, spotted a live tick lodged in his right shoulder, she told the New York Post. Simonson told the Post she easily removed the tick with tweezers in 15 minutes, leaving a “little red bump.”

However, two weeks later he began complaining of headaches, became unusually sleepy and had fevers over 103 degrees, Simoson said, according to the New York Post.

After two visits to a pediatrician, Simoson took Jonny to the emergency room. The next 12 days were a blur of MRIs and CT scans, a lumbar puncture, antibiotics and antivirals, as doctors investigated the cause of his symptoms, first on a general ward and then in pediatric intensive care. 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 searching for an answer. We were terrified of not going home with our child,” Simoson said, according to the New York Post.

Powassan virus, transmitted by deer ticks, is rare

People catch the Powassan virus from infected blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. It is usually diagnosed by testing cerebrospinal fluid.

Data suggests that between six and 39 cases are reported to the CDC each year, mostly in northeastern states and the Great Lakes region in late spring, early summer and mid-fall. , when deer ticks are most active.

Most people have no symptoms, but the virus can cause confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking, and seizures if it infects the brain or its membranes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 10 people who become seriously ill from Powassan virus disease die, and about half of those who survive end up with long-term loss of muscle and strength.

Meningoencephalitis, Jonny’s diagnosis, is a serious illness when the brain and the fine tissues around it become inflamed.

Blacklegged tick on a blade of grass

Blacklegged ticks can spread the Powassan virus.

Ladislav Kubes/Getty Images

Jonny received antibody treatment

There are no proven drugs for Powassan virus disease, so most people with severe illness are treated in hospital with supportive measures, including drip fluids in the vein and oxygen.

However, Jonny was treated with five doses of disease-fighting antibodies from blood donors, a treatment called intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg), which has been used to treat lupus and children with heart disease.

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

“Whether this is due to IVIG, I can’t really say, more studies need to be done” on the use of IVIG for Powassan virus, she said.

Jonny was sent home after 12 days but was limp on one side of his body and needed physical therapy and speech therapy. According to the New York Post, his parents had to re-teach him how to eat and drink.

“Jonny was still not walking and his balance was poor,” Simoson wrote. “We knew we had a ton of work to do, but we were up for the challenge,” she said.

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

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