Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
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ST. BERNARD PARISH, La. -- A family from St. Bernard Parish is grieving the loss of its young son tonight after battling a suspected case of encephalitis. While it's rare, there are some precautions you can take to lower your risk.

The four-year-old little boy was admitted to Tulane Medical Center hospital Saturday night. A loved one said he was on the brink of death. A piece of the child's skull was removed to relieve the pressure from the fluid build up in the brain.

Loved ones tell us an autopsy is being performed today to find out the exact cause of the illness, but Tulane Medical Center confirms that doctor did treat a suspected case of encephalitis. The strain of virus at this time is unknown.

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain usually from a viral infection. It's rare, but can be caused by the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores, or viruses such as West Nile, spread to your blood when a mosquito bites you.

Most people who get West Nile get no symptoms or just some cold or flu symptoms and go on normally. But a small percentage of people get sick and an even smaller number get encephalitis.

So how do you know when it's serious enough to get medical attention.

'Altered mental status, you know, if the child is becoming a little bit off, a little confused or not themselves. Too lethargic or sleepy compared to the normal behavior. If they have a fever with that, you probably ought to call your doctor and say, 'Hey, should I come in?' ' said Dr. David Mushatt, chief of the Adult Infectious Diseases section at Tulane.

Female mosquitoes are more likely to bite 20 percent of people: Those with Type O blood, larger people because they breath out more carbon dioxide, if you're sweaty after exercise, those with certain skin bacteria and genes, if you drank a beer, pregnant women, and wearing bold colored clothing. Mosquitoes tend to bite around dusk. Check with your pediatrician before using a repellent on a young child.

'The concern about DEET is, it is very effective, the concern is that is too much of it gets on a child over too large of an area at a high of a concentration, it could cause toxicity,' explained Dr. Mushatt.

The state health officials say last year there were more cases of West Nile illness in the area. But this year, there have been very few because we had a cooler spring affecting the number of mosquitoes.

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