Tick Bite Leads to Dangerous, Rare Illness for Pennsylvania Toddler

by Emily Morgan

In just 15 minutes, one tick bite forever changed a little boy’s life. The boy has since been diagnosed with a rare, debilitating tick-borne virus that seriously sickened the once-healthy 3-year-old Pennsylvania boy.

When his mom, Jamie Simoson, took him in for a pediatric visit, the doctor assured her that it was just a common virus. Later, she learned her son was now battling an illness with life-long effects.

Before the bite forever changed his life, Jonny Simoson was swimming in a neighbor’s pool in June. When his mom noticed a small dot on his shoulder blade, she discovered it was a tiny tick.

“It was not embedded. It was not engorged. I easily removed it with a pair of tweezers, and it was still alive,” Simoson said. “He didn’t necessarily have any marks on his back shoulder until a few days later; there was just a tiny red bump. That was it.”

However, two weeks later, she received a call from her son’s daycare, saying he was not feeling well.

“He was mopey, had no appetite, and the fact that he was complaining about a headache was not normal for a 3-year-old,” she said of her son’s symptoms.

After a visit to their pediatrician, they sent him home with some medicines, but he later woke up with a fever.

She later took her son to the ER after his fever spiked above 104 degrees. Sadly, their ER trip would be just the beginning of their long battle trying to get him diagnosed.

After undergoing several treatments and tests, doctors transferred him to an intensive care unit at the specialty children’s hospital.

Doctors diagnose child with extremely rare tick-borne illness

“Things got really scary at that point,” his mother said. “It was so frustrating searching for an answer. We were terrified that we might not be coming home with our child.”

However, neurologists later diagnosed him with meningoencephalitis, an infection of the brain and the thin tissue surrounding it. Finally, after a night of intravenous immunoglobulin, a treatment for people with antibody deficiencies, there was a moment of hope.

After nearly a week of unresponsiveness, her son was now alert and talking.

“It was amazing. That was the first time since the whole situation started that my husband and I both just completely broke down,” she said proudly.

After 12 days, doctors finally discharged him. “Johnny was still not walking, and his balance was poor,” Simoson said. “We knew we had a ton of work to do but were up for the challenge.”

Three days after returning home, he tested positive for Powassan virus, a rare and dangerous tick-borne disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human Powassan virus infections have been found in the U.S., Canada, and Russia.

In the U.S., cases of Powassan have been reported primarily in the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region. These cases usually occur in the late spring, early summer, and mid-fall, when ticks are active.

Since 2011, there have only been 178 reported cases in the states.