Dead birds and seagulls spotted in the town of Fairhaven, Mass., have raised concerns among residents that the animals are infected with the potentially fatal, mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus. In recent weeks, at least four people in the state have contracted the disease — including one woman who died as a result.
Concerns the dead birds are carriers of the disease prompted the Fairhaven Health Department to release a statement after it received “several” reports of the deceased animals.
“While we understand the concerns residents may have with possible correlation to EEE, our department does not have any knowledge of knowing if these birds have contracted EEE, nor do we have the necessary equipment to conduct testing,” officials said, adding they are “urging” residents to “leave these birds where they are and to not come in contact with them.”
“Please do not bring birds or animals to the Health Department, Police Department or the Animal Control Office,” officials continued.
The Fairhaven Health Department said it has been in contact with state health officials who have the necessary resources to conduct tests on the birds.
EEE, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a rare disease that’s spread by infected mosquitoes. The virus “is one of a group of mosquito-transmitted viruses that can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis),” the federal health agency says.
EEE is more common in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, though the CDC said some cases have been reported in the Great Lakes area. It’s rare — only five to 10 cases are reported each year in the U.S.
In humans, symptoms of EEE typically appear four to 10 days after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. Severe cases of the virus “begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting,” said the CDC, which noted, “the illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, and coma.”
One-third of those infected with EEE virus die, while survivors typically have “mild to severe brain damage.”
There’s no specific treatment for the infection.
“Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no effective antiviral drugs have been discovered," the CDC said. "Severe illnesses are treated by supportive therapy, which may include hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids, and prevention of other infections."
Birds infected with EEE transmit the virus to mosquitoes when the insects draw blood from the diseased bird.
“Mosquitos then transmit the virus to other birds during subsequent blood meals, continuing the cycle,” according to the Cornell University Wildlife Health Lab.
Most birds with the virus don’t show any symptoms. That said, EEE can kill some species of birds, namely pigeons, pheasants, and emus, per the university.
Laurie Sylvia, of southern Bristol County, was reportedly the first EEE-associated death in Massachusetts this year. Her case marked the state’s fourth.
The 59-year-old was largely remembered as a “beautiful soul” who was “always the life of the party,” her daughter said.