Children's Hospital sees increase in La Crosse encephalitis

Published: Aug. 8, 2017 at 5:10 PM EDT
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In recent days, the East Tennessee Children's Hospital Infectious Disease Department has reportedly noticed an increase in the number of patients diagnosed with La Crosse encephalitis.

"We have definitely seen an increase in La Crosse cases in the last few weeks," said Lori Patterson, M.D., Infectious Disease Physician at Children's Hospital. "On average, the U.S. reports about 80 to 100 cases of La Crosse per year, with Tennessee averaging a dozen cases annually. We have seen seven children at East Tennessee Children's Hospital with confirmed La Crosse in the last four weeks."

La Crosse encephalitis is a viral infection that has become the most common cause of mosquito-borne illness in the United States and Tennessee. Symptoms of the infection, which causes irritation of the brain, include headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and disorientation. Severe cases my include seizures, coma or even death.

The virus most often affects children under the age of 16.

Treatment for the infection usually requires hospitalization. Mosquitoes carrying the virus have been found in Tennessee.

Diagnosis of the disease happens with blood tests, so it is important to consult a doctor if it is suspected. Reporting cases of La Crosse can reduce the risk of additional cases with education and prevention.

Parents can help avoid children getting bitten by mosquitoes by applying insect repellent before children go outside and dressing them in long sleeves and pants.

Mosquitoes can breed in any place where there is standing water. To get rid of potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes, follow these tips:

-Get rid of old tires, tin cans, buckets or any water-holding containers

-Fill in or drain low places in your yard or driveway, and keep drains, ditches and culverts free of weeds and trash so that water will always drain

-Cover trash containers

-Repair leaky pipes and outside faucets

-Empty wading pools at least once a week or more often, or empty and store the pools in between uses. Make sure backyard pools are properly cared for at all times

-Fill in tree rot holes and hollow stumps that could hold water with sand or concrete

-Change the water in bird baths, plant pots or drip trays at least once a week or more often

-Keep grass short and shrubbery trimmed

-Clean out gutters

-Treat bird baths, ornamental pools and plant saucers with mosquito dunks, which are available at most local hardware stores and contain bacteria that is harmless to people and pets but kills mosquito larvae.