AN English teacher who was bitten by a tick believed he just had the flu before he dramatically worsened and was left with life-changing brain damage.
Keith Poultney was struck down by the devastating disease encephalitis – which causes the brain to swell – while volunteering as a teacher in Nepal.
The 40-year-old, who was volunteering as a teacher in the south Asian country, was given antibiotics after discovering a tick had embedded itself in his right ear and had to be removed by a friend.
However, his infection was resistant to the drugs and Mr Poultney began to feel seriously ill as he flew home to the UK, with his temperature soaring to more than 40 degrees Celsius.
When he was seen by doctors after he arrived home, they believed he had a tropical disease and discharged him as he showed signs of improving.
But the terrified teacher rushed back to hospital after he began to suffer hallucinations and severe headaches caused by the brain swelling.
Doctors discovered he did not have flu or a tropical disease, instead finding an infection called Rickettsial Typhus which had been lying dormant and reactivated the encephalitis.
There are just 6,000 cases of the life-threatening disease, which causes severe brain swelling, in the UK each year.
Mr Poultney said: “I was taking part in a voluntary project teaching English in a remote village in the Kathmandu Valley.
Towards the end of my time in Nepal I was bitten by a tick inside my right ear.
“I didn’t know I had been bitten and only realised it was still embedded in me about two days later when I started to feel discomfort and pain.
“I was not overly concerned as a number of my friends had colds or flu. A few days later I travelled to India, and things got so worse, I was forced to attend a local hospital.
“They treated me with antibiotics, but what they didn’t know was that the type of infection I had developed was resistant.
“I flew home as planned but the flight, a 12-hour flight via the Middle East, was the worst experience of my life.
“I have never felt so unwell. I had a temperature of 40.5 degrees and was unable to keep anything in.”
After being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, Hants, Mr Poultney was moved to a specialist tropical infectious disease unit.
Luckily, doctors were able to reduce the swelling in his brain, but the teacher, from Waterlooville, Hants, said he no longer felt like himself.
He said: “I felt different in myself. I had real problems with my balance and was unable to walk in a straight line.
I felt different in myself. I had real problems with my balance and was unable to walk in a straight line. I have never felt so unwell”
“I physically felt as though I was impaired or drunk. I could not gauge space or distance and would often walk into door frames or knock things such as drinks over.
“I also kept having audio and visual disturbances causing me at times to feel like I was in some form of alternative world.”
“I lost weight and had little appetite. I found that most of the time I was emotionless and cold to everything.
“However, things could quickly change and simple sights or sounds could flip my emotions from sad to happy with no real explanation.
“I had, and still continue to have, real problems concentrating, planning and problem solving.”
Mr Poultney added he still suffers with fatigue almost two years after falling ill in 2017, as well as having memory problems.
Since leaving hospital, he has been supported by brain injury charity Headway who he said were able to ‘pick him up’ from a ‘very low point’.
He said: “The care I received in hospital was first class but once I was discharged I felt very alone and forgotten.
“Without Headway’s help, I know my recovery would have been slower and more frustrating. They were there to pick me up from a very low point in my life.
“I know my brain has been altered and that will most likely never change. But I also know that I shouldn’t try and deal with this on my own.”