In a recent press release from the Maine Center for Disease Control, a warning has been issued informing Mainers about the danger of mosquito-borne diseases.
In the last few weeks, cases of insect-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) have been detected in various regions of the northeast. There has been one case in York County, Maine of a horse that contracted the disease. The disease has not affected a state of Maine resident since 2015, but as the CDC has observed, this year has been a very active year for the mosquito-borne disease. State officials in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have noted increases in EEE, with Massachusetts reporting four cases of humans who contracted the virus.
Out of the four recorded cases of EEE, one Massachusetts woman died from complications caused by the virus. Once a person is infected, the virus can cause damage to the Central Nervous System. It is characterized by chills, fever, achy joints and muscle aches. Those who are affected by a more severe version of the virus may suffer from a headache along with a fever, restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea and, if symptoms worsen, swelling of the brain. The symptoms may last up to two weeks.
EEE was first observed in Maine in 2001, when it was detected in various bird populations. The virus is carried by wild birds and is then commonly spread to horses, as well as humans, through mosquitoes. The virus cannot be contracted from contact with an EEE infected person or horse.
Due to its prevalence throughout New England over the summer, the CDC is urging residents to educate themselves on the effects of the disease, as well as ways to minimize or prevent exposure to potentially infected mosquitoes. The risk of contracting an insect-borne virus increases in the late summer and early fall. Mosquitoes are active in Maine until the second heavy frost, so the risk may extend late into the fall.
With the increase in cases of EEE over the past summer, some are wondering if a link can be drawn between the uptick in cases and regional, as well as global, climate change. This past summer was a record-breaking year as heat spiked during July, setting a new record for the hottest month of the year in Maine. A report from the New England Journal of Medicine published in early 2013 presented conclusive evidence that wet winters, followed by hot summers could significantly increase the likelihood that viruses like EEE are transmitted from avian carriers to humans. The July heatwave, which followed a rainy winter may have contributed to the prevalence of EEE cases in New England this year.
The Maine CDC director, Nirav D. Shah, noted that, “Although no human cases have been reported … it is important for all Mainers to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors while taking precautions to protect their health.”
The CDC advises that people protect themselves by minimizing their outdoor activity and taking personal precautions to prevent mosquito bites. This includes using insect repellent when outside, wearing long sleeves and pants and wearing clothing that is treated with insect-repellent substances, like Permethrin, if possible. Prevention is the easiest way to handle this virus, as there is currently no immunization or specific antiviral treatment available for EEE.