- A 14-year-old girl in Michigan is fighting a life-threatening case of eastern equine encephalitis, a mosquito-borne virus that causes a rare, potentially fatal disease.
- A woman recently died of EEE in Massachusetts. It's also been found in mosquitoes in Florida, across the northeastern coast and into the midwestern states.
- The disease kills more than 3 out of 10 people infected, and can cause permanent brain damage in the form of mental impairment, seizures, and personality disorders in survivors.
- There is no known treatment, but certain precautions can help prevent it.
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A teenager in Michigan has become the latest case in a growing list of people affected by a rare mosquito-borne illness spreading across the US.
The 14-year-old girl was put on a ventilator after contracting eastern equine encephlalitis, a local news station reported on August 27. Two other suspected cases of the disease have been reported by state health officials, and six horses have already died of EEE in Michigan this season.
EEE, or "triple E," is a rare but life-threatening virus that can wreak havoc in livestock and cause permanent brain damage in people, resulting in seizures, mental impairment, and even personality changes in survivors of the disease.
It is most often found in the northeastern United States in swampy, wooded areas from late spring to early fall. It can also be found in southern states into the winter months.
There is no cure, but the disease, as well as others transmitted by mosquitoes, can be prevented by taking precautions against mosquito attacks.
The disease is also in Florida, along the northeastern coast, and is spreading in the Midwest
In late August, a case of EEE in Massachusetts turned fatal — a 59-year-old woman died after contracting EEE, according to NBC 10. An autopsy is being performed to confirm the cause of death.
Three others in the state — two men over 60 years old and one man between 19 and 30 — have also been diagnosed with the disease.
The first case was confirmed in early August, making the man the first human case in Massachusetts since 2013, CNN reported.
The New Jersey Department of Health that an elderly Somerset man has been diagnosed with the virus, the state's first human case of EEE this season.
And in Rhode Island, an elderly man in West Warwick was diagnosed, the first human case in that state since 2010, the Providence Journal reported.
The virus as also been spreading in mosquitos across the country.
On July 25, Orange County, Florida, officials warned the public about an increase in mosquito activity and said that chickens in the area had tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis virus, or EEE, according to a press release.
Just days earlier in New York, Oswego County officials said EEE was discovered in two mosquito pools from a swamp about 20 miles north of Syracuse in a town called West Monroe, according to Syracuse.com. Since then, a total of four horses have died from the virus this season, the site reported.
And across Delaware, sentinel chickens (used to monitor for mosquito-borne illnesses) have also tested positive for EEE, according to Delaware Online.
Mosquitos carrying the virus have also been found in Connecticut according to a local news outlet.
Some communities are issuing warnings and even instilling curfews
Following the four infections in Massachusetts, 29 communities in the state were declared at critical EEE risk, 37 at high risk, and more than 70 at moderate risk, according to the state Department of Health.
Since disease-carrying mosquitos tend to be most active between dusk and dawn, some communities are putting measures in place to try to keep residents safer.
The mayor of New Bedford, Massachusetts, declared a sunset curfew for all city property, including public parks, according to the local radio station 1420 WBSM. Rochester, Massachusetts has instituted a similar curfew. And area high schools have moved athletic events like football games to early afternoon instead of evening, South Coast Today reported.
EEE is dangerous because it can inflame the brain
Only about 5 to 10 human cases of EEE are reported in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But about 30% of cases are fatal, and survivors are often left with permanent brain damage.
After it's been transmitted via a mosquito bite, the virus can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), which is what makes it so dangerous and potentially fatal.
If a mosquito with the virus bites you, you can experience symptoms like headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting four to 10 days afterward, according to the CDC. You'll know it's not something like the flu since it suddenly progresses into more serious symptoms like disorientation and convulsions.
A blood test or spinal fluid sample can diagnose the infection. Although there's no cure, patients should be hospitalized so symptoms can be treated. If the infection doesn't reach the brain, people can make a complete recovery within weeks.
However, if the brain does become inflamed, brain damage can be permanent and cause long-term problems like confusion, memory loss, changes in personality and mood, paralysis, and intellectual impairment. About a third of patients with EEE die, either within weeks of getting this disease or years later as a result of ongoing physical and mental impairment.
Use bug spray with DEET or lemon eucalyptus to protect yourself
Anyone can get the disease, but people who work outside are particularly likely to be bitten by mosquitoes, and children and the elderly are most likely to have severe cases of EEE.
You can prevent all mosquito-borne illnesses by using effective bug spray (with DEET or lemon eucalyptus) while outside, and wearing long pants and sleeves, according to the CDC.
Health officials also recommend eliminating mosquito habitats where possible. That means getting rid of standing water from containers around the home like flower pots, gutters, recycling containers, wheel barrows, and birdbaths. Also make sure your screens don't have any holes or tears so that they keep mosquitoes outside.
Editor's note: This story was updated on August 4 to reflect the latest EEE cases