Mistaken Infection 'On The Prairie'?

Mary Ingalls, of 'Little House on the Prairie', probably didn't go blind from scarlet fever, experts suggest

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Hirsch is also skeptical that meningoencephalitis caused her blindness because this usually causes damage to more than one area. "If meningoencephalitis caused enough nerve damage to blind you, it would be unusual for it to just hit that part of the brain without causing a more general injury," he said.

He suspects that it's more likely that she had a viral illness with a high fever and became dehydrated, which resulted in a blocked vein in a blood vessel that supplies the eyes with blood (retinal vein occlusion).

Whatever the actual cause was, Allexan said the message for doctors is that it's "important what labels we use to talk about disease. People still think scarlet fever is a serious, deadly disease that can cause blindness."

More information

Learn more about scarlet fever from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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