Even though there have only been 17 cases of Zika reported this year, Florida health officials have announced increasing numbers of a new potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus this summer: Eastern equine encephalitis.
This mosquito-transmitted illness is known to cause swelling in the brain among affected individuals. Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) has been found in increasingly high numbers by the Florida Department of Health in Orange County. The disease is also not limited to a single species of mosquito. Among the estimated 3,000 species roaming the planet, any number can give you the virus if you’re bitten, causing a rash of outbreaks in a single area.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of the virus occur suddenly after exposure, typically within four to 10 days after the initial bite from an infected mosquito. It starts with a rapid headache, followed by chills, vomiting, and a high fever.
Without treatment, the CDC notes that the illness can quickly deteriorate into disorientation, seizures, coma, and even death. Though only one-third of infected individuals die from EEE, many survivors often suffer from brain damage from the illness, ranging from mild to severe depending on the health of the individual and the treatment of the infection.
“Death usually occurs 2 to 10 days after onset of symptoms but can occur much later,” notes the CDC, according to an article by the New York Post. “Of those who recover, many are left with disabling and progressive mental and physical sequelae, which can range from minimal brain dysfunction to severe intellectual impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Many patients with severe sequelae die within a few years.”
Unfortunately, there is no current drug or antiviral medicine that can cure EEE. All doctors can do in the meantime is treat the symptoms through IV therapy, hospitalization, and respiratory support.
According to CNW, the uptick in this rare virus has occurred due to the heatwaves that have persisted throughout the nation. When conditions are hot and humid, mosquitos are able to thrive, expanding their range and breeding larger populations.
While Florida is no stranger to hot conditions like this, health officials are warning residents to take special care during this time, especially if you’re particularly young or old. Travelers should also be wary of mosquitos and take the necessary precautions to prevent infection. Up to 96% of people value vacation time, but a single bug bite has the chance to ruin more than just your vacation.
However, anyone who works or performs recreational activities outside are at risk. Officials are reminding residents to “Drain & Cover” to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos. This includes draining stagnant bodies of water around your home that could attract mosquitoes and covering openings in your home with screens to deter their entry.
Floridians should also take care whenever they go outside. Because of Florida’s layer of lime rock, sinkhole lakes are common. It’s recommended that residents avoid these bodies of water and take preventative measures against the high numbers of mosquitos in the area by utilizing bug spray, wearing loose-fitting clothing that offers more coverage, and contacting a doctor at the first signs of infection.
Luckily, there are an estimated 20,000 physicians who practice urgent care medicine alone. If you fear that you have contracted EEE from a mosquito bite, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor to get tested. Medical professionals are able to detect the illness through a simple blood test.
In the meantime, researchers are doing all they can to monitor the situation and ensure the safety of Florida residents. But they can’t do it without your help.
“The Department continues to conduct statewide surveillance for mosquito-borne illnesses,” reports officials. “Residents of Florida are encouraged to report dead birds via the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s site.”