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CDC Details Mosquito-Borne Virus-Linked Death in Tennessee

Researchers identify lethal strain of La Crosse virus in Tennessee patient

FRIDAY, April 17, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Researchers have characterized a La Crosse virus isolate from the brain of a child who died of encephalitis-associated complications in eastern Tennessee in 2012.

La Crosse virus, transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito, often causes no symptoms. But severe cases may involve encephalitis. “When [the La Crosse virus] does cause disease, it can cause fatal illness or make children very sick,” Amy Lambert, Ph.D., a research microbiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told HealthDay. “The disease is almost exclusively among children,” added Lambert, lead researcher of the new paper published in the May issue of the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases.

In this case, the 6-year-old Union County, Tenn., boy was hospitalized in July 2012 after suffering two seizures and other symptoms associated with viral encephalitis. His condition deteriorated rapidly, and he died within five days. Illness from La Crosse virus, which was identified in 1963 in La Crosse, Wis., is uncommon. Cases each year in the United States number just 80 to 100, Lambert said. Still, these infections have increased in parts of the southeastern United States, including eastern Tennessee, where the boy was living, the CDC pointed out. After an autopsy, researchers compared the strain of virus that killed the boy with strains of virus collected from mosquitoes in woods near his home. They also compared these strains to samples collected from mosquitoes in different areas of the country over more than 40 years.

The fatal strain in the Union County case was the same strain seen in other cases of La Crosse infection, Lambert said. “This strain of La Crosse is the only known strain in the entire history of human cases that has been associated with severe human illness and fatal outcomes,” she said. “Further, that was the strain that was present in mosquitoes native to the United States, not to mosquitoes recently introduced to the country.”

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