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AR Health Officials Investigate Possible Equine Encephalitis Case

Doctors wait for lab results to confirm a possible case of a rare infection spread by mosquitoes.
LITTLE ROCK, AR--An Arkansas teen is in critical condition battling a possible rare infection more commonly found in horses.

Prayers for Sevier County teen Coleman Pearson are pouring in by the minute on Facebook alongside updates explaining how doctors are treating the teen for what they believe to be Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).

"This would be a very rare event," says Dr. Gary Wheeler, head of the Arkansas Department of Health Infectious Disease division.

If lab results return a positive diagnosis for the infection, Pearson would be the 5th person in the U.S infected with the illness this year and the first on record in the state of Arkansas.

Experts say while it's rare among humans, EEE is more common in horses.

"It's very heartbreaking to see a horse like that," says Dr. Teresa Medlock, a veterinarian at the Humane Society of Pulaski County.

Video from the Myrtle Beach Equine Clinic's website shows how the infection affects horses.

According to the Department of Health EEE has killed five horses in Central Arkansas this year. Dr. Medlock cared for some.

"As the disease progresses they press their head against the wall. They are sensitive to sound and at the end stages they have seizures," she describes.

Many of the symptoms are similar in humans including swelling of the brain. The infection spreads to both through mosquitoes.

Dr. Medlock explains "In Arkansas, it's what we consider endemic disease. It's just here, it's in the mosquito populations and the birds."

Dr. Wheeler says, "Most people are familiar with West Nile, we had a big outbreak last year. Many cases hospitalized and a few deaths, that's an example of what happens with mosquito born Encephalitis infections."

Focusing on Coleman, the family hopes along with prayers people will listen to doctors and focus on prevention.

Dr. Wheeler says, "Once you have encephalitis it's tough, it's tough for physicians taking care of you tough for family so the goal is prevention."

An average of six people are infected with Eastern Equine Encephalitis each year in the U.S.. According to the CDC, it's more common in the eastern part of the country.

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