JACKSON TWP. — During her career as an emergency room nurse at Aultman Hospital, Carissa Gambs has taken care of many sick kids.
But when her youngest son fell seriously ill, she was unable to help.
That's because 7-year-old Joshua Gay was stricken with La Crosse encephalitis, a rare and dangerous virus that's on the increase.
Gambs said it started on Aug. 27 after her son played soccer.
"On Wednesday, he woke up with a headache," she said. "I checked him for a fever and took him to school. The teacher sent me an email later saying he had a fever."
Gambs gave him Children's Tylenol and Children's Motrin. After school, Joshua went to his father's house, where he spent the night. The next morning his fever had reached 104.2 degrees. Gambs came over and gave him more Tylenol and Motrin.
"I thought it was just an early flu or back-to-school germs," she said.
"There was noting out of the ordinary," said Joshua's dad, Brandon Gay. "We didn't have a reason to suspect anything."
But on Aug. 30, after Gambs picked up Joshua, the fever returned. She decided to keep him home from school. Later, as went to check on him, she called his name, but he didn't respond. She thought he was just being a kid.
"I came into his room and called him, but he was unresponsive," she said. "He was having a focal seizure."
Boys are at risk
Gambs said when she turned Joshua on his side, he vomited. She called 911 and he was transported to Aultman's emergency department.
Once there, Joshua continued to suffer seizures. Dr. Will Clark, suspecting more than the flu, ordered tests. Clark had Joshua transported to Akron Children's Hospital's pediatric intensive care unit, where he eventually was diagnosed with La Crosse encephalitis.
"This has been a parent’s worst nightmare, the things that have happened and the fears that we had," she said. "I am an emergency room nurse at Aultman and see awful things all the time. However, it is 100 percent different when it is your own child."
La Crosse encephalitis is caused by infected Eastern Treehole mosquitoes, which lay their eggs in the holes of trees and in containers. It has a five-to-15-day incubation period, with most severe cases often found in children under 16.
The virus can cause seizures, and in some cases, coma and paralysis. It strikes boys 5 to 9 in particular, Gambs said. Though most patients recover, it can cause some cognitive and neuro-behavioral problems that require occupational therapy.
There is no cure for the virus, however, symptoms are treatable.
"This is not a typical mosquito," Brandon Gay said. "Ohio's the No. 1 state for these mosquitoes. They did tell us they're seeing an uptick."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio has seen 179 cases of La Crosse encephalitis between 2008 and 2017, followed by North Carolina, at 175 cases.
A report published by the Stark County Health Department's website confirms that the number of La Crosse encephalitis cases in Ohio is growing. So far, 10 have been reported this year.
Brandon Gay said his son's tests were sent to the Mayo Clinic, which confirmed the diagnosis on Sept. 8.
Gambs said Joshua had to be on a ventilator for six days. Doctors also installed an inter-cranial device in his brain to combat swelling.
"When they told me 'We're going to intubate him,' I just broke down," she said.
Joshua spent 12 days in the hospital. He was given anti-seizure and anti-viral medication.
Gambs has nothing but praise for Akron Children's Hospital.
"Their pediatric intensive care is magical place," she said. "You couldn't ask for a better place."
Best money ever spent
Joshua has returned school part-time and is receiving therapy, Gambs said. "He's turned around quicker than anybody expected."
There is no vaccine or treatment available for La Crosse encephalitis apart from insect repellent that contains DEET, IR3535, Picaridan, Para-merthane-diol, 2-undecanone, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Gambs and Brandon Gay, who also have a 10-year-old son, said they're sharing their story to increase awareness so that another family won't have to have go through the same frightening experience. Their son's illness has forced them to become experts of sorts.
Gambs is urging cities and townships to start spraying to prevent mosquitoes in parks, playgrounds and wet areas.
"There's a lot of wooded areas over by Strausser Elementary, where he goes to school," Brandon Gay said.
Gambs said she's had her yard professionally sprayed for the last three months.
"It's the best $75 I've ever spent," she said.
To learn more visit http://www.odh.ohio.gov/mosquitoes
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP