Connecticut health officials are cautioning southeastern area state residents after the potentially deadly mosquito-borne eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus was detected for the first time this year.
Mosquitoes trapped in the Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown on Sept. 23 have tested positive for EEE, according to the Department of Public Health. The state is urging residents to protect themselves from mosquito bites and mosquito-borne diseases.
“We encourage residents of southeastern Connecticut to take simple measures such as wearing mosquito repellent and covering bare skin, especially during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active,” Public Health Department Commissioner Manisha Juthani said in a statement.
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station tests showed the infected mosquitoes were both bird-biting and mammal-biting species, known as culiseta melanura and ochlerotatus canadensis. Mosquitoes can acquire the virus only by feeding on infected birds.
“EEE virus is unpredictable and varies from year to year but we detect the virus in mosquitoes during most years,” Philip M. Armstrong, virologist/medical entomologist told USA TODAY. “Major disease outbreaks are less common and occur about once every 5 years in Connecticut. The last time we had an outbreak occurred in 2019 and involved 4 humans cases (3 fatalities) and 6 horse cases in eastern Connecticut.”
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says symptoms include fever, chills and malaise and can last one to two weeks. But symptoms can worsen, causing headache, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and even coma.
EEE is rare but is fatal in 25% to 50% of cases and leaves others with lasting health problems. Patients can die two to 10 days after symptoms begin, and people over 50 or under 15 are at greater risk of developing severe disease once infected, according to the CDC.
The largest increase in EEE cases in the past decade occurred in 2019, with 38 confirmed cases – most on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Nineteen people died from the virus that year, according to the CDC.
There is no vaccine against EEE virus infection or specific antiviral treatment.
Though there hasn’t been an update on the number of cases this year, on Sept. 23, a Pine Hill resident in New Jersey tested positive for EEE. According to the Camden County website, the patient remains in the hospital.
To avoid EEE, health officials suggest these steps:
- Minimize time spent outdoors between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
- Be sure door and window screens are tight-fitting.
- Wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods of time, or when mosquitoes are more active. Clothing should be light-colored and made of tightly woven materials.
- Use mosquito netting when sleeping outdoors or in an unscreened structure and to protect babies when outdoors.
- Consider using mosquito repellent, according to directions, when it is necessary to be outdoors.
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