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Mosquito-Borne Brain Infection More Severe Than Thought

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These changes aren't always obvious at first.

"The problems were not there immediately," Johnson says. "One year went by and then one day Ronnie was playing in the living room with his brother and fell on the couch. I thought he was joking, but then I saw he was out of it. The doctors realized he would start having more seizures at that point.

"I've cried about it -- Ronnie seemed totally different from the son I had before," she continues. "His whole attitude had changed. He seemed more defiant; he had learning impairments that we are still working on. He always had done really well in school, and it seemed after the encephalitis, he had no drive. It seemed he was always tired and always moody, not wanting to cooperate. But he's starting to improve now."

John R. Schreiber, MD, MPH, is chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Case Western Reserve University's children's hospital in Cleveland. He praises the McJunkin team for providing sorely needed information. He notes that while La Crosse encephalitis is a serious disease, other mosquito-borne encephalitic diseases firmly established in the U.S. can be far worse.

"The [aftereffects] of La Crosse encephalitis are worse than we thought but not devastating," Schreiber tells WebMD. "In the scheme of things, these are mild deficits. For example, eastern equine encephalitis virus can destroy your brain -- now that is very disturbing. In the fear ratio, La Crosse is considered relatively mild.

"I don't keep my kids indoors when there is a report of La Crosse in the community," he says. "But when it's in the neighborhood, I make sure the kids are covered and wear insect repellant."

For those most severely affected, however, the relative mildness of La Crosse encephalitis is small consolation.

Debbie Arrington's son Josh, now 13, also came down with the disease when he was 7, just like Ronnie. The similarities didn't stop there. "It was very, very scary," Arrington tells WebMD. "The day [Josh] went into a seizure he was crying, 'My head hurts so bad, please make it go away.' I was rubbing his head and then he started just staring at the wall -- it was a seizure, so we rushed him to the hospital. But when we got him home, that is when the struggle began. We did not get the same child back. He always forgot things, his schoolwork was very poor. A few months later he started having seizures again, and this continued every three months until last year.

"Now we know that God has blessed us," she says, "and we have never had any more trouble. Now his memory is great, and he is 100% there. But it took us four years of hard work and positive reinforcement. It was a struggle to keep him going."

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