KC boy gets rare virus

Sunday, July 25, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A mosquito-borne virus that has not been seen in Kansas and is rare in Missouri has shown up in Kansas City, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The La Crosse virus landed an 8-year-old boy in the hospital for a week last August with meningitis. The case is described in a CDC journal released Friday.

About 50 to 100 La Crosse virus cases are reported each year, and 2 percent are fatal.

The virus, first identified in the 1960s, is found in the upper Midwest and Appalachian states. It usually causes mild illnesses. But severe cases can mean seizures, coma and brain damage.

Until the Kansas City case, the virus hadn't appeared in Missouri since 2002. It has never been found in Kansas. But there may be a reason for that, Lo said.

"Physicians usually don't put this disease on their radar screens," he said. "It's likely that the disease is underdiagnosed and underreported."

La Crosse virus is spread by the eastern treehole mosquito, Aedes triseriatus, a woodland pest found throughout Missouri and as far west as central Kansas.

The Kansas City boy came down with a headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and stomach pains. His parents took him to an emergency room, where doctors first thought he had strep throat and prescribed an antibiotic medication.

When he didn't improve, he ended up at Children's Mercy, with a 104-degree temperature. His neck hurt when he bent it. And he had a hard time tolerating light.

"I wasn't expecting it to be La Crosse virus, but I was happy to make a diagnosis," said Angela Myers, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children's Mercy.

By the time Myers got the test results about a week later, the boy's health had improved and he was discharged from the hospital.

Most La Crosse virus cases are much less severe than what the boy experienced, Myers said.

The symptoms are often vague and overlap with those of other viral infections. But a high fever coupled with an aversion to light or difficulty responding to questions are signs of serious illness that should be checked out by a doctor, Myers said.

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