By Jacob Mahaffey
In recent days there have been two documented cases of encephalitis reported in area youth that have led to hospitalization at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Both cases involved boys under the age of 10. One lives in Holmes County and the other in Tuscarawas.
Encephalitis is extremely rare in humans, and as such, not a lot is known about it outside of the medical community.
What exactly is encephalitis? “Encephalitis is an infection of the brain, typically by a virus, and it causes inflammation,” explained Dr. Kevin Miller, ER physician at Cleveland Clinic Union Hospital.
Encephalitis can’t be caught like a normal virus, however. “It is not contagious from person to person, it’s blood-borne,” stated Miller. “Mostly, the virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. Horses can be the reservoir, for example. The horse has the virus, the mosquito bites the horse and then the human.”
Encephalitis usually takes four to ten days to incubate once contracted. The illness itself can last one to two weeks.
If encephalitis is contracted the symptoms can vary. “Most of the symptoms range from their mild form, severe headache, and fever,” stated Miller.
However, there are some who develop a more severe form of the disease. Those symptoms, according to Miller can include severe infection, inflammation, and swelling of the brain that can lead to a comatose state, and, in some cases, death.
Most of the treatment is just supportive in nature. “There’s no specific treatment for most of the causes. Antibiotics don’t help because it’s a virus,” Miller said.
While encephalitis is a serious disease, Miller reminds that the odds of contracting it are slim. “Most cases are not serious,” Miller explained. “First off, it’s very rare, it’s around here, but it’s very rare. Most cases are very minor and mild and they resolve on their own without any problems. It’s the very exceptionally rare case where you have severe problems.”
Two of those rare cases are being worked on now. For both local boys, the recovery process will be long. However, with medical advancements, procedures, and protocols, both boys are expected to make a full recovery.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, on average, there are only seven cases of encephalitis reported each year in the United States. The majority of those cases are reported in areas that are swampy. Ohio didn’t have any reports of encephalitis between 2007 and 2016.
Since the virus is mainly transmitted via mosquitos, the CDC recommends normal mosquito bite precautions. If you are going outdoors use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants and make sure to treat those items with an insect repellent as well. You can also take measures to control the mosquito population both indoors and outdoors. Start by using screens on windows and doors. Make sure to repair holes in screens to keep mosquitoes outdoors. If available, try to use air conditioning in the home.
It is also a good idea to stop mosquitoes from laying eggs in or near water. You can do this by emptying and scrubbing, turning over, covering, or throwing out items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots, or trash containers.
While the risk for encephalitis is out there, with a little prevention and planning you can still enjoy the rest of your summer and fall without worry.
If you suspect encephalitis, see a doctor immediately, especially if a patient is experiencing confusion, hallucinations, seizures, muscle weakness, problems with hearing or speech or the loss of sensation or paralysis in certain areas of the body or the face. Young children and older adults are the most at-risk patients.
This story originally appeared in the September 12, 2018 edition of The Budget. For more news, pick up a copy of this week’s edition available Wednesdays at area retailers. Better yet, subscribe and the news will be delivered to you each week. For more information, call us at 330-852-4634.