Simply dealing with the itchiness after a mosquito bite is annoying enough, especially when you’ve been outside for a significant length of time and find yourself covered in itchy red dots. But it turns out people in several U.S. states have a lot more to worry about than some pesky itching.
According to health officials, a rare virus called eastern equine encephalitis virus, or EEE, that can cause brain damage has been found in New York, Massachusetts, Florida, South Carolina, and New Jersey.
The virus, spread by infected mosquitoes, has been confirmed in mosquitoes south of Boston, MA; mosquito pools about 20 miles north of Syracuse, NY; in the blood of sentinel chickens in Orange County, FL; in an Appaloosa colt in Chesterfield County, SC; and a 12-year-old vaccinated mare in Ocean County, NJ that was euthanized on July 23.
Thankfully EEE is rare and no human infections have been reported this year, but it is known to wreak havoc on livestock and can cause personality changes in humans who aren’t killed by the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 5 to 10 humans cases are reported every year in the United States, but 30% of cases typically prove fatal and most survivors are left with permanent damage. In 90% of cases, EEE proves fatal for horses.
After the virus is transmitted to humans via mosquito bite, the victim may suffer from encephalitis—or inflammation of the brain—ultimately leading to death or permanent brain damage. Other symptoms include headache, fever, chills and vomiting for four to 10 days after transmission. Severe symptoms include seizures, disorientation and coma.
While there is no cure for EEE, a blood or spinal fluid test can diagnose the infection and, if it doesn’t reach the brain, it’s possible to recover within a matter of weeks.
The danger comes when the virus reaches the brain. When this occurs, irreversible problems such as confusion, memory loss, personality changes, paralysis and more are possible.
Thankfully, the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses can be significantly lessened through prevention. If you work or play frequently outdoors, experts recommend using bug spray that contains DEET or lemon eucalyptus, in addition to wearing long clothing that covers the skin. According to officials, people under the age of 15 or over 50 are at greatest risk for serious illness.
Reducing sources of standing water—like flower puts, buckets, bird baths and other containers—can help to reduce the mosquito population in your yard. It is also a good idea to make sure that all screens are in-tact so the pests don’t enter your home.
Officials in Oswego County, New York released a list of recommendations to hinder the spread of EEE:
- Repair or replace window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside and reduce or eliminate all standing water.
- Dispose of old tires. Used tires are a significant mosquito breeding site and are accepted at Oswego County transfer stations. Call the Oswego County Solid Waste Department at 315-591-9200 for details.
- Empty or dispose of pails, cans, flower pots, and similar water-holding containers.
- Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.
- Clear roof gutters and be sure they drain properly.
- Turn over wheelbarrows and wading pools when not in use.
- Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs and drain pool covers.
- Change the water in birdbaths and horse troughs twice a week.
- Remove leaf debris from yards and gardens and clean vegetation and debris from the edge of ponds.
- Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects on your property.