Lyme disease isn’t the only virus spread through tick bites. Beware of Powassan virus.


There’s a new warning about a rare virus caused by ticks, it’s not Lyme disease, CBS Philadelphia’s Stephanie Starr reports.

A young boy in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, is recovering from a life-threatening infection linked to tick bites.

Jamie Simoson says her son Jonny, 3, is making progress. He is recovering from a severe infection caused by the Powassan virus.

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

A few weeks before Jonny fell ill with headaches and a high fever, she found a tick. She took him to the doctor, but when he continued to deteriorate, she went to the emergency room.

Jonny was diagnosed with meningoencephalitis.

“Meningitis means inflammation of the lining of the brain, and encephalitis means inflammation of the brain cells themselves,” said Dr. Swathi Gowtham. “And this virus can cause both.”

There are no proven treatments, and care often includes fluids, oxygen and seizure medication, Gowtham said.

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

“What is intravenous immunoglobulin, it’s other people’s immune systems,” Gowtham said. “Jonny’s response has been excellent. Whether it’s IVIG, I really can’t say, more research needs to be done.”

Jonny returned home after nearly two weeks in hospital. He receives rehabilitation, speech, occupational and physical therapy.

“He has some obvious left-side weaknesses,” Simonson said. “His speech is a bit of a step backward. Cognitively, I would say he’s not necessarily what he used to be. But we really believe the progress he’s made will continue.”

The family is raising awareness about tick-borne diseases.

“If we can help a person get treatment faster or identify symptoms or prevent ticks sooner,” Simonson said, “what we’ve been through is worth it and he’ll be fine.”

The best way to prevent tick bites is to use repellent, doctors say. Powassan virus is difficult to diagnose and rare. It is mainly distributed in the northeast.



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