Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is on the rise in many Boston suburbs – but what exactly is it? How can you get it? How can you protect yourself and your family? Attending Physician and Associate Director of the Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program, Brian D. W. Chow, MD, answers all of our pressing questions in this brief Q&A.
What is EEE and what happens if you get it?
Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is a virus transmitted from a mosquito bite. It normally lives in birds, but certain mosquitoes that bite both birds and humans can pass the virus to humans.
It is estimated that in the vast majority of cases, about 95%, the person will fight off the virus with only a mild illness. In the remaining 5%, the virus will travel to the brain and cause encephalitis—inflammation and swelling of the brain.
Most cases will start with a mild illness and fever. Cases of encephalitis will develop signs and symptoms about 3-4 days into the illness. This can include headache, drowsiness, confusion and/or change in personality. Of people who develop encephalitis, even with modern medical care, about one-third will die, and many survivors will have long lasting nervous system problems.
Are there treatments available?
There is no vaccine for EEE, and there is no medicine which acts directly against the virus. Doctors and nurses support the body’s functions as the body heals.
What is the prevalence in MA?
EEE comes and goes. The last outbreak in Massachusetts was in 2012. Between then and now, we had no cases of EEE. However this year, we have had 8 total cases of encephalitis due to EEE.
How you can protect yourself and your family?
Keep from getting bitten by mosquitoes! Here are some tips:
- The mosquitoes that transmit EEE bite between dusk and dawn. Avoid spending time outdoors during these times if you can.
- Ensure that you sleep with windows closed and air conditioning on.
- If you have screens, make sure they are in good repair and have no holes where mosquitoes can get inside.
- While outside, wear clothes that will cover up as much skin as possible to reduce areas where mosquitoes can bite.
- Wear a CDC recommended insect repellent, such as DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
- Make sure you get rid of standing or stagnant water to reduce placed where mosquitoes can breed.
What you should ask of your town/city for further protection?
Ask about any plans for spraying for mosquitoes and instructions on what do while they are spraying in your neighborhood. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health maintains maps showing the risk for EEE in your area.