BELLVILLE -- Bellville mother, Holly Zehner had never heard of the “La Crosse” virus until late last summer. That's when her 7-year-old daughter had already spent several nerve-racking nights in the hospital, suffered at least one seizure and was acting “out of her mind.”
Now Zehner wants other local parents to be aware of the viral disease, which is spread by the eastern treehole mosquito and historically most common in Ohio.
According to the Center for Disease Control, there have been 179 reported cases in Ohio between 2008 and 2017, more than the total in any other state. The cases vary in severity, but for Zehner’s daughter Lauren, the disease was “literally torture,” the girl’s mother recalled.
Lauren, who was then 6, came down with what initially appeared to be a “summer sickness” last August and was taken to the hospital after her fever spiked to more than 105 degrees. She was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and sent back home.
“I knew that wasn’t what she had, but by the time we left, she felt so much better. She seemed like she was fine,” Holly Zehner said.
But only 90 minutes later, she and her husband rushed their daughter right back to the emergency room, where she needed to be sedated for her blood work.
“She had no idea what was going on. She was out of her mind basically,” Zehner said.
Lauren was shaking, screaming and didn’t even recognize her mother.
“She was saying, ‘Water. Water. Thirsty,” Zehner said. “So I gave it to her, and she threw it.
“I was terrified and thinking, what happened? She’s normally so sweet.”
Later that night, Lauren was transported to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Further testing revealed Lauren’s affliction was viral. To the best of Zehner’s memory, her daughter was placed on two antibiotics and medicine to keep her fever down.
Then, Lauren had a seizure, which seemed to tip doctors off.
“A neurologist came in after that. It was Saturday, and that was the first time I heard of La Crosse,” Zehner said.
On Tuesday, they received the official diagnosis. Lauren had the La Crosse virus, and it had caused Meningitis and Encephalitis -- the first an infection affecting the membranes that surround the brain or spinal cord; the second causing her brain to swell. The swelling contributed to Lauren’s outbursts.
“LaCrosse is a virus that typically presents itself as a flu, but in a rare number of cases, it becomes very severe, very quickly,” Zehner said. “My daughter, she was a really healthy girl ... so still don’t know why for her it became so severe. I never got an answer.”
After leaving the hospital, Lauren was able to attend school on for a couple hours in the morning, and over several weeks, she slowly started staying longer until she could be there all day.
Lauren would be tired, and she’s still working to get back up to speed cognitively. Zehner said she was told it could take two years, but Lauren has already shown remarkable progress.
“Lauren has definitely surpassed all expectations, and we truly believe it is due to all the thousands of people that prayed for her and also the natural protocols we have done to support her body's healings,” Zehner said.
Further, the girl is on a dairy and gluten free diet and takes a supplement called Synapsin to help rebuild damaged brain cells and assist with her neurological functions. Plus, Zehner uses a blend of essential oils (Frankincense, Lavender, and Copaiba) on Lauren twice a day, which was recommended by the aromatherapist on staff at Nationwide to reduce inflammation, including the inflammation in Lauren's brain and to improve neurological function.
This summer, Zehner intends to take added precautions for her children and wants other parents to be aware of LaCrosse, too. She encourages them to use some form of mosquito repellent, even during the day as that’s often when the eastern treehole mosquitos bite. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon.
She also tells parents to clean up old tires and check flower pots or other containers that might hold water, as any place where water sits stagnant, the mosquitoes might breed.