LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - An Arkansas teenager battles a rare brain infection, and is in critical condition at Arkansas Children's Hospital. Doctors believe 13-year-old Coleman Pearson's infection is so rare that his would be the first human case of the disease in the state of Arkansas in the last 50 years.
"We're very concerned about him, he's been in our prayers," said James Jones, principal at Ashdown Junior High School where Pearson is in the 8th grade. "He's a wonderful kid, very personable,a lot of friends here at school, he really enjoys the outdoors, he's a member of our 8th-grade football team and we really miss him."
Doctors believe Pearson has Eastern equine encephalitis, a rare brain infection transmitted by mosquitoes.
"It certainly was a big surprise and the first thought was that the test was wrong because it's so rare," said Branch Chief of Infectious Disease at the Arkansas Deptartment of Health, Dr. Gary Wheeler. "Encephalitis is an inflammation, an infection in the brain that causes people to be disoriented, to have swelling and can actually die from the complications of brain swelling."
Wheeler said not one human case of the disease has ever been found in Arkansas since the state began keeping records in the 1960's. He does not, however, see this case as an overall threat to public health.
"As long as there are mosquitoes out, they carry a wide range of different kinds of infections," added Wheeler. "I think if we see 2 or 3 cases it will be more of a concern. I think right now it's just sort of an oddity. We are close enough to states that see the infection that I'm not completely surprised that occasionally we would see a case."
Wheeler said there is no treatment for the disease and that the only option is to let the infection run its course. He said the best way to protect yourself is to stick to what he calls the "Three D's" of battling mosquitoes: avoid Dusk and Dawn when mosquitoes tend to feed, use DEET as a mosquito repellent and drain any standing water where mosquitoes can breed.
Pearson's condition has not yet been confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In order to confirm a case as Eastern equine encephalitis the patient's doctor first receives a positive result on a screening test, then the Arkansas Department of Health requests samples and sends those to the C.D.C. for confirmation.