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Mom sounds alarm after son's mosquito bite causes seizures, brain swelling

Doctors say the 6-year-old North Carolina boy contracted La Crosse encephalitis from a bug bite.
/ Source: TODAY

A North Carolina mother is issuing a public warning after her 6-year-old son nearly died from an infection caused by a bug bite.

LoriAnne Surrett says she thinks her little boy, Noah, got bit while playing outside. But the bite came from a mosquito carrying the virus that causes La Crosse encephalitis, which creates inflammation of the brain.

After spending nearly a week fighting for his life in the hospital, Noah is back home with his parents and siblings.

“There was so many times it went through my mind, not knowing if he was going to make it,” Surrett said.

It started on a recent Saturday when Noah began crying over a headache as the family headed over to see his grandparents. Surrett said she gave her son some pain medication, which seemed to help. Noah and his older brothers stayed overnight with their grandparents, but he still complained of a headache when his mother checked in the next morning.

Then Surrett said she got “the scariest call of my life,” when her mother-in-law called shortly later to say Noah was “not acting right” and had become non-responsive. Her in-laws then hung up to call 911.

“Noah's lips were blue, eyes fixed looking up and was completely limp he had a seizure,” Surrett recalled in a lengthy Facebook post that described the experience.

“I panicked and everyone else did they carried him to the ambulance and checked his temperature it was 102.3 they thought it may have been a febryl seizure,” she wrote. “They started iv fluids and got him stable we left for mission, in the way there he had another seizure and almost a 3rd when they gave him a medicine to knock the seizure away.”

A spinal tap at the hospital revealed Noah had La Crosse encephalitis, which made his brain swell with fluids, causing the headaches the boy had complained about a day earlier.

Noah slept for the next few days, becoming responsive only when his pain medication wore off.

“I am a mother of 5 boys and I am a firm believer in bug spray and all that 2 keep the bugs away and it still happened to my little man,” Surrett wrote. “Noah is a spunky little dude that sickness never brings him down so this is breaking all of our hearts.”

Surrett told NBC News she worried her son’s condition would never improve.

“Then all of a sudden, at 3 o’clock that day, he just sat up in bed and started talking to me,” she said. “It was just mind-blowing how much — just in a matter of minutes it's like he'd come to life."

Surrett said her son is happy to be home but the transition has been difficult.

“It's been very hard, especially at nighttime," she said. "He wakes up and he cries having nightmares."

Surrett now wants to prevent other families from going through the same ordeal. Although doctors had told her the virus-carrying mosquitos were common in their area, she had never been warned of them before.

“Please be cautious as this was something I thought I had prevented happening,” she warned on Facebook. “I dont want to see another baby go through this, they said it's like meningitis so they are treating it the same way. Use big spray on your kids check for bites, it's not 100% preventable obviously but do what you can to try.”

An average of 70 cases of La Crosse encephalitis are reported each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most severe cases occur in children younger than 16.

Experts say bug spray is one of the best ways to prevent mosquito bites, even though Surrett said Noah was wearing it. Other preventative methods include wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts and removing standing water in containers outside the home.