8 people have now died from a rare mosquito-borne virus. The outbreak, centered in Massachusetts, has caused a public health crisis across New England, Michigan.
So far, 3 of the 10 patients from Massachusetts with confirmed cases of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) have died. 2 Connecticut residents tested positive for the disease; one of them has passed away. Additional infections have been discovered in Rhode Island. A separate outbreak is also underway in Michigan.
EEE is rarely seen in humans, with just 5-10 cases reported every year in the United States. Unfortunately, 30% of those cases are fatal. Survivors of the disease often experience “ongoing neurologic problems,” according to the CDC.
Symptoms of the virus begin 4-10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Those symptoms include a sudden high fever, headache, chills, exhaustion, and a stiff neck. In severe infections, the person may develop encephalitis, a very serious and fast-moving inflammation of the brain. Symptoms of encephalitis are confusion, seizures, and eventually a coma.
Severe cases are more common in children, adults over 50, and people with compromised immune systems. The Children’s Hospital of Boston recommends taking your child to see a doctor if they experience “a bad headache, nausea, and vomiting, fever or any worrisome changes in behavior.”
Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel urged residents to exercise extreme caution. “We continue to emphasize the need for people to protect themselves from mosquito bites. It is absolutely essential that people take steps to avoid being bitten by a mosquito.”
The best way to avoid mosquito bites is to use an EPA-approved insect repellent containing DEET or Picaridin. The CDC cautions people to follow the directions on the container of bug spray and avoid using non-approved natural repellents, which may not be as effective.
Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and closed shoes to avoid exposing skin. For extra protection, you can spray your clothing with permethrin, a powerful insecticide that lasts through multiple washings. Permethrin is also effective against ticks–just make sure to use it as directed and never spray it directly on your skin.
To prevent mosquitoes from getting into your home, make sure that open windows and doors are covered with screens. If you notice a hole in the screen, repair it immediately. Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so check your yard once a week for problem areas.