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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A Kent County woman nearly died from a severe case of encephalitis she said developed after she was bitten by a mosquito while camping.
Tammie Fenn, 20, said she went camping in June up north and started feeling sick as soon as she returned home.
"By the time we got her to the hospital, all her vital signs dropped and everything," said Fenn's mother Brenda Barone. "The doctor told me it was a good thing I brought her in when I did because she could have died."
Fenn had encephalitis: An inflammation of the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic, that is most often caused by viral infections.
Fenn spent weeks at Metro Hospital, had multiple seizures, and sustained brain damage caused by the swelling. She still has to undergo occupational therapy that will likely will continue for the next few months.
"There was a few times that she got into the big seizures I walked out. I couldn't handle it anymore," said Vince Barone, Fenn's stepfather.
Fenn and her family said their real-life nightmare was due to a disease or infection that Fenn contracted from a simple mosquito bite.
Fenn said the encephalitis has caused her to lose months and even years of memories. She said she can't even remember the camping trip.
"It doesn't seem real," she said while looking at a picture of herself in the hospital Ina. Drug induced coma. "I still ask, 'Why, why did I go through this?' The part that makes me angry, I guess, is not remembering stuff. That's why I'm angry."
Fenn said she didn't have West Nile virus, but that her doctors told her a mosquito bite was likely to blame for the infection she contracted. According to her medical records, the cause of the encephalitis was undetermined.
"That's probably more likely the case that you would never really know," said Dr. Randall Duthler of Metro Health. "There are many, many documented cases of viral meningitis that are not at all associated with mosquitoes, so it could be coincidence."
Duthler did not treat Fenn.
He went on to point out that mosquitoes are an insect that can carry many different viral illnesses that in rare instances can cause some serious problems.
"I think when you see some of the cases on the news, those are probably the worst case scenarios," said Duthler. "Most of the time, even with West Nile virus, it's self limiting, meaning that it will go away on its own and very few patients actually require hospitalization or advanced care."
Fenn said she never thought she would get so sick from a bite and realizes most people don't, but that she hopes that others can learn from her experience.
"I mainly don't go out at night when the mosquitoes are mainly out now," Fenn said.
Though the risk of serious injury or illness may be low, doctors say Fenn is doing the only thing she or anyone else can now: Taking precautions against the pests whenever possible.
As we near the holiday weekend, health officials encourage wearing long sleeves and pants while outside and using bug spray with DEET in it. And if you feel sick, especially if symptoms get worse quickly, see a doctor.
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