Mos­quito-borne virus in­fec­tions reach record high

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY SHEN WU TAN

Six states have re­ported a record num­ber of in­fec­tions of Eastern equine en­cephali­tis (EEE), a mos­quito-borne virus blamed for seven re­cent deaths.

Mas­sachusetts, Michi­gan, New Jersey, Con­necti­cut, Rhode Is­land and North Carolina have re­ported 27 cases of the dis­ease — the largest num­ber of in­fec­tions since 2005, when 21 cases were recorded.

“EEE is one of the most dan­ger­ous mos­quito viruses that we have here in the United States,” said Lynn Sutfin, spokes­woman for the Michi­gan Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices.

Michi­gan has re­ported eight EEE cases and three deaths, the sec­ond-high­est num­ber of in­fec­tions recorded in a state this year. Mas­sachusetts has re­ported 10 cases and two deaths, and Con­necti­cut has re­ported two deaths.

“De­spite any and all mos­quito con­trol in­ter­ven­tions that have been used, EEE in­fected mos­qui­toes are still present and will con­tinue to present a risk un­til the first hard frost,” said Cather­ine Brown, the state epi­demi­ol­o­gist for Mas­sachusetts. “It is crit­i­cal that peo­ple con­tinue to take steps to avoid mos­quito bites par­tic­u­larly by us­ing mos­quito re­pel­lent any­time they are out­doors and avoid­ing out­door ac­tiv­i­ties be­tween the hours of dusk and dawn in the high­est risk ar­eas.”

On av­er­age, the United States sees about seven cases of EEE each year, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. Last year, six cases were re­ported.

“It’s not un­usual to see spikes in the num­ber of EEE cases from year to year,” said Mag­gie Sil­ver, a health com­mu­ni­ca­tion spe­cial­ist for the CDC’s Di­vi­sion of Vec­tor Borne Dis­eases. “We saw sim­i­lar in­creases in 2004-2006 and 2010-2012. As with most mos­quito-borne dis­eases there are sev­eral fac­tors that con­trib­ute to years with higher than av­er­age case counts. This could in­clude changes in the bird and mos­quito pop­u­la­tions, weather patterns, and even hu­man be­hav­iors.”

Ms. Sil­ver said the spread of EEE is a “rapidly evolv­ing sit­u­a­tion” and noted the agency’s case count might dif­fer from what in­di­vid­ual states are re­port­ing.

To help halt the spread of the virus, some states have taken ex­tra pre­cau­tions.

Mas­sachusetts has con­ducted aerial spray­ing in sev­eral of the high­est risk ar­eas, while Michi­gan is dis­cussing this as an­other po­ten­tial pro­tec­tion op­tion.

Some states also have urged schools and com­mu­ni­ties to post­pone or can­cel out­door events af­ter dusk.

Joseph Con­lon, tech­ni­cal ad­viser for the Amer­i­can Mos­quito Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion, said spray­ing is not the only an­swer, stress­ing that peo­ple can pro­tect them­selves by ap­ply­ing EPA-reg­is­tered re­pel­lents; wear­ing long, loose-fit­ting clothes; dump­ing stand­ing wa­ter; and main­tain­ing win­dow screens.

There is about a 30% chance that a per­son who catches EEE and ex­hibits se­vere flu-like symp­toms will die. Chil­dren younger than 15 years old and adults older than 50 years old are at the great­est risk of de­vel­op­ing a se­ri­ous dis­ease from the virus.

Mr. Con­lon said birds in hard­wood swamps carry the virus. In­fected mos­qui­toes that feed on birds and mam­mals can spread the dis­ease to hu­mans. States have re­ported nu­mer­ous EEE cases in horses that can­not pass the virus to hu­mans.

While there is an EEE vac­cine for horses, there is none for hu­mans.

Now that fall is here, Mr. Con­lon said the U.S. should see some re­lief since EEE mostly oc­curs in the sum­mer. But he added that the mos­quito-borne West Nile virus usu­ally kicks in late sum­mer or early Oc­to­ber as birds start to mi­grate.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A record num­ber of in­fec­tions of the mos­quito-borne Eastern equine en­cephali­tis has been re­ported in six states and blamed for seven deaths.

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