Every year reported cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and the West Nile virus surface in communities around the country, raising concerns and questions about mosquito borne-illnesses. Despite reports that children and the elderly are at greatest risk, anyone can be stricken by these viruses. But prevention is within everyone's control.
"The key is protection," said Sam R. Telford, III, an infectious disease expert from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. "Even though these illnesses are rare, there's no way to know where and when they can strike. It's simple: wear insect repellent anytime you are outside."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EEE is the most dangerous arbovirus - viruses spread by insects, spiders and other arthropods - in North America. While the national average of contracted cases is five per year, the fatality rate in humans is 35 percent, according to the CDC (the Ebola virus' mortality range is 40-60 percent). There is no specific treatment and the symptoms resemble the common cold or flu. In humans and horses, EEE can result in encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which can lead to coma, convulsions or death. There have also been reported cases of dogs contracting EEE.
West Nile is a virus related to yellow fever, dengue and several types of encephalitis; its symptoms may include fever, meningitis, encephalitis, paralysis and kidney disease. Birds and humans are affected, and although it's rare, dogs can contract the virus as well.
Telford specializes in studying disease spread by ticks and mosquitoes, and has been an advocate of community education as a measure of prevention. He is frequently asked to speak on ways to minimize the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses, and offers this advice:
Around your home
•Turn over or empty containers where water collects such as metal cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, trash cans, birdbaths, wheelbarrows, and recycling containers.
•Clean clogged roof gutters. Remove leaves and debris that may prevent drainage of rainwater.
•Keep swimming pools clean and properly chlorinated. Remove standing water from pool covers and turn over wading pools. Aerate ornamental ponds or stock them with fish.
•Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects on property.
•Fix holes in screens and make sure they are tightly attached to all doors and windows.
•Always wear mosquito repellent that contains DEET (the chemical N-N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) and follow the directions on the label. Never use DEET on infants. Avoid using repellents with DEET concentrations above 10-15 percent for children and with concentrations above 30-35 percent for adults. Cream, lotion or stick formulas are best. Avoid products with high amounts of alcohol.
• Avoid being outdoors between dusk and dawn, if possible, since this is the time when mosquitoes are most active. Or wear longs-sleeved shirts and pants during these high-risk times.
•Cover the arms and legs of children playing outdoors. When bringing a baby outdoors, cover a carriage or playpen with mosquito netting.
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University