3-year-old Pennsylvania boy contracts rare Powassan virus from tick bite

Pennsylvania toddler Jonny diagnosed with severe tick virus after going swimming

Jamie Simonson

A 3-year-old boy in Pennsylvania has been diagnosed with a dangerous and debilitating tick-borne disease after his mother spotted a tick as he went swimming in the neighbor’s pool.

On June 15, Jonny Simoson was invited to join a “neighborhood bestie” at his pool. “Jonny never turns down a chance for a swim, so we headed over!” the toddler’s mom, Jamie, said in a Facebook post.

While the kids were having fun, Jamie noticed something on his back. “A DREADED tick,” she wrote. Since Jonny’s older sister, Jessica, was diagnosed with Lyme disease three years ago, the mother had become something of an expert at spotting small creatures.

“We managed to remove the non-encrusted or engorged tick and end our date with surprise S’mores,” Jamie said of the seemingly uneventful day on Facebook.

“He didn’t necessarily have marks on his back shoulder until a few days later, there was just a little red bump. That was it,” Jamie added to the The New York Post.

Two weeks later, however, Jonny’s daycare noticed he was acting differently: “He was moody, had no appetite and complained of a headache,” Jamie posted on Facebook.

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Pennsylvania toddler Jonny diagnosed with severe tick virus after going swimming

Pennsylvania toddler Jonny diagnosed with severe tick virus after going swimming

Jamie Simonson

Over the next two days, the toddler’s symptoms steadily worsened. After taking him to the pediatrician, Johnny started taking medication but woke up that night with a fever, The New York Post reported. “We called the doctor the next morning, and I said he slept a lot and that was really not his style,” Simoson told the outlet.

A few days later, Jonny’s fever soared above 104 degrees and his family decided to take him to the hospital. According to the outlet, his high white blood cell count increased to 30,000.

Suspicion of bacterial and viral meningitis later emerged due to neutrophils – a type of white blood cell that acts as the immune system’s first responders – in his umbilical fluid. Shortly after, however, the diagnoses were ruled out.

After being transferred to a specialized children’s hospital, doctors were still at an impasse. “Things got really scary at that point,” Simoson told the New York Post. “It was so frustrating looking for an answer. We were terrified of not going home with our child.”

An answer finally came on the fifth day when Jonny went unresponsive after doctors performed an MRI and diagnosed him with meningoencephalitis – an infection of both the brain and the thin tissue around it, The New York Post reported.

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The diagnosis was then followed by an overnight of intravenous immunoglobulin, a treatment for patients with antibody deficiencies. Incredibly, within 15 hours of his first dose, Jonny was awake and talking.

“It was unbelievable. It was the first time since this whole situation started that my husband and I had completely broken down,” she told the outlet.

After 12 days in hospital recovering, Jonny was finally discharged.

“Johnny still wasn’t walking and his balance was bad,” Simoson told the New York Post. “We knew we had a ton of work to do, but we were up for the challenge.”

Three days after his discharge, Jonny tested positive for Powassan virus, a rare and dangerous tick-borne disease. According to the CDC, there have only been 194 cases of the virus reported in the United States from 2011 to 2020.

Speaking to PEOPLE on Saturday, Jamie shared that Jonny is “doing well now and seems to be recovering well”.

She added: “Since there are not many confirmed cases, we are concerned about what his future may hold and the potential long-term effects, but overall pleased with his progress.” The proud mum also added that he had started swimming again and was “crazy and fun himself”.

Pennsylvania toddler Jonny diagnosed with severe tick virus after going swimming

Pennsylvania toddler Jonny diagnosed with severe tick virus after going swimming

Jamie Simonson

“We’re working through what seem like small setbacks, but we’re confident we’ve found the right resources to help us get through them,” she told PEOPLE.

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Above all, the family wants to make everyone aware, especially the parents. “We want everyone to be aware of the real risks associated with tick-borne diseases and to be vigilant about prevention and recognizing symptoms,” she said. “A little tick could have taken our sweet boy away from us. We are so lucky to be able to share his story.”

She added: “If it only reaches one person and helps them get treatment sooner, what we’ve been through will be worth it.” The family created a Facebook page to raise awareness and share Jonny’s recovery.

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