Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus has killed 11 people in the United States in 2019 alone. This year has seen an unusual increase in the number of reported cases and deaths. Every year in the United States, there are typically only five to 10 human cases reported, with only 30% of all cases resulting in death. Many survivors experience ongoing neurological problems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Eastern Equine Encephalitis, more commonly known as EEE, is a rare cause of brain infections. This should not be confused with the Zika virus, which usually has no symptoms or mild symptoms, and is generally less of a concern than the rare EEE virus. Only a few cases of the EEE virus are reported each year, with most cases occurring in the eastern or Gulf Coast states.
Most EEE transmission cases occur around freshwater hardwood swamps in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states and the Great Lakes region. The EEE infections have mostly been reported from the states of Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina.
EEE is an airborne virus, typically spread through mosquitos. The virus can cause brain swelling preceded by flu-like symptoms, including a high fever, chills, and nausea. Severe cases of EEE can result in seizures or a coma, which can result in brain damage.
The EEE virus belongs to a category of viruses known as arboviruses, or arthropod-borne viruses.
“This is a disease that invades the central nervous system, that can progress relatively rapidly to changes in level of consciousness, leading to seizures, coma and about a 40% fatality rate,” said Catherine Brown, Massachusetts’s state epidemiologist in an interview on Boston’s NPR news station. Not everyone who gets infected will become sick, however, in the 1950s, New Jersey had a large outbreak of EEE, and studies from that time showed that many people had an immune response to the virus but never became seriously ill.
If you do find yourself infected with the EEE virus, symptoms will typically show up in four to 10 days after a bite from an infected mosquito. These symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, and fatigue. In rare cases, infection occurs in the brain and spinal cord leading to sudden high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, seizures and coma.
“We continue to emphasize the need for people to protect themselves from mosquito bites,” Monica Bharel, Public Health Commissioner said in a news release last month. “It is absolutely essential that people take steps to avoid being bitten by a mosquito.”
Authorities say the most effective way to prevent infection from Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus is to prevent mosquito bites. Although mosquitos are more active during the evening, they also bite during the day. Use insect repellent, wear long sleeved shirts and pants, treat clothing and gear with repellent, and take steps to control mosquitoes indoors and outdoors.
EEE typically infects people with weaker immune systems along with people who engage in outdoor and recreational activities. Persons over the age of 50 and under the age of 15 seem to be at greatest risk for developing severe disease when infected with EEE. Overall, only about 4 to 5% of human EEE infections result in complications.
In order to keep children safe from mosquito bites that could lead to EEE doctors advise to dress them in clothing that covers their arms and legs. For infants who are stroller-bound, make sure to cover the stroller with mosquito netting. Lastly, parents can use insect repellent on their children, but should be careful to always follow label instructions. Doctors advise to use repellents containing lemon eucalyptus or para-methane-diol on children under 3 years old, and do not apply repellent to a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, cuts, or irritated skin.
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