A mum is warning about the dangers of mosquitoes after her seven-year-old daughter suffered terrifying seizures and hallucinations from an invisible bite.
First-grader Lauren Zehner spent six days in hospital after she was bitten by the infectious insect and was left unable to recognize her own parents for a short time.
Thankfully she was correctly diagnosed with a rare condition called La Crosse encephalitis and received the treatment required for her to recover.
The viral disease, which is spread by the eastern tree hole mosquito, can easily be misdiagnosed and can cause paralysis in extreme cases.
Mum Holly Zehner, 33, a wellness advocate, became concerned about her daughter on August 16 when her fever spiked to 105 degrees.
ER doctors initially diagnosed Lauren with a typical UTI, but when she returned home the typically sweet-natured child became angry and disoriented.
While Holly nipped out to get a prescription her husband Jonathan Zehner, 39, became frightened by their daughter’s condition.
Holly said: “As I pulled into the driveway, my husband came running out. He said something was really wrong with Lauren.
“When I went inside, she wasn’t responding to me. She was confused. She didn’t know who I was.
“She started to become angry. She was asking for water and when I brought it to her she threw the glass away.
“We called an ambulance and she was brought back to the same ER we had been to earlier that day.
“They couldn’t believe she was the same child. She was so combative they had to sedate her just to do her blood work, which she had done so easily just hours before.
“She’s a sweetheart usually, but she became out of her mind.”
Little Lauren was transferred by ambulance to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where scans revealed her brain was swelling.
The first grader was immediately admitted to the Pediatric ICU where she was tested for meningitis and treated with antibiotics and antivirals.
Lauren was transferred to the Infectious Disease Unit after two days where she began to experience frightening seizures.
Holly said: “Her eyes were rolling back and her blood pressure skyrocketed.
“Lauren’s neurologist came in later that evening and said that they were seeing seizures in many recent cases of La Crosse encephalitis.
“Many people haven’t heard of it but it’s a mosquito borne virus.
“To be honest we did not remember her being bitten. The incubation period for this virus is up to two weeks so it could have happened at any point.
“In some children it can present as a simple flu, but in others like Lauren it can be very serious and life-threatening.”
Lauren suffered two more seizures over the course of two days and was prescribed anti-seizure medication as her body tackled the infection.
Holly and Jonathan, a field work planner, were worried when Lauren’s neurologists prepared them for the possibility that their daughter may have cognitive setbacks following the ordeal.
Holly said: “Lauren’s neuropsychologist told us that the illness could leave her with developmental delays.
“She told us that children who go through illnesses like this one typically are a year behind cognitively.
“I just was so grateful that she was alive that I didn’t even care. I knew we were going to be okay.”
Lauren was released from hospital on August 22, six days after she was first admitted.
Holly said: “I was so terrified about bringing her home. I don’t think I slept for weeks.
“We bought a baby monitor because I was scared she would have a seizure in the middle of the night.
“The biggest thing was that when she came home she had a lot of anger issues. We discovered this was a side effect of her anti-seizure medication.”
Since Lauren’s illness, Holly has become an advocate for raising awareness about the La Crosse virus and the impact it has on American communities.
According to the Centers of Disease Control an average of 70 cases of LAC encephalitis are reported each year in the United States but Holly reckons this figure is much higher.
It is Holly’s hope that the virus is taken as seriously by Ohio’s Health Department as West Nile virus, another life-threatening mosquito borne illness.
Holly, who is also mum to Colton, nine, and steppum to Ayden, 17, said: “I have been trying to highlight the need for La Crosse testing with the Ohio Department of Health.
“We need the necessary equipment to protect children.
“In Ohio, they test mosquitoes for West Nile and they send out local alerts if it is found in an area.
“The same practice is not carried out for La Crosse.
“I have an interest in essential oils so my kids are always protected in bug repellent in the evenings.
“This specific mosquito is dangerous though because they bite in the day time.
“We have this perception that mosquitoes only bite after dark.
“The eastern tree mosquitoes breed in trees and stagnant pools of water, like in old tires.
“They have very specific breeding habits and stay in the same area, which are called hot spots.
“I have been in contact with other mums in my direct area whose children have been impacted.
“Lauren’s neurologist told us he had cared for eight children on his floor with the virus.
“It’s something our health department needs to take seriously.
“A single mosquito bite could have a devastating impact on children.
“I feel like Lauren is 99.9 per cent back to the way she was, but we got very lucky.”