Local boys recovering from dangerous mosquito-borne illness

AKRON, Ohio  -- At least two area boys are recovering from a rare and dangerous mosquito-borne illness that has no cure.

Blake Stutzman of Berlin, Ohio, is one of them. Blake is described by his father as a typical nine-year-old.  "Very active, likes sports, basketball, soccer, baseball. Loves LEGOs, loves to build with his hands," said Rodrick Stutzman.

Stutzman said the family lives in what he describes as "Amish country" where his son also loves to play outdoors in the woods near their home.

It is there where he could have been bitten by a mosquito transmitting the rare La Crosse encephalitis.

"He started complaining of headaches the first day of school and then he started having a fever and he started having seizures," said his father.

The symptoms only got worse.

"His fever jumped to about 104 and then he had a seizure -- two at home. The ambulance picked him up; he had another one going out to the ambulance and another one at the hospital and that's when they finally called Akron Children's Hospital."

The disease has no cure but the symptoms can be managed.

Weeks after the onset of his symptoms, Blake Stutzman continues to go through occupational and speech therapy at Akron Children's Hospital.

Dr. Blaise Congeni, the director of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Akron Children's Hospital, said, for some reason, the disease, while rare, is most prevalent in Ohio than any other state.

The Centers for Disease Control shows 13 cases reported in Ohio in all of 2017;
between 2008 and 2017 in Ohio --a reported 179 cases.

By comparison, neighboring Kentucky reported only two cases, Indiana only six, Michigan only three and Maryland only three cases in the same period.

A Summit County resident died of La Crosse encephalitis in 2010.

The disease is carried by the Eastern Treehole mosquito, which typically lays eggs in the holes of trees.

Dr. Congini said it can be prevented with the use of repellents that include DEET.

"All the studies point out that DEET is safe and can be used down to two months of age and it should be used," said Congini.

The EPA says repellents containing DEET are safe if used according to instructions including not using the repellent over cuts and wounds, avoiding spraying it on your face, and not allowing young children to apply it to themselves.

Experts say it is also important to remove standing water in containers including tires and small containers.

Experts also say it is smart to go indoors if bugs are biting, particularly around dawn and dusk.

Rodrick Stutzman said after seeing what his son has had to endure he will no longer take something as common as a mosquito bite for granted.

"He went outside without any OFF, any DEET, anything like that and I feel like, man, I should have had that on; I could have done something there."

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