Two additional cases of the potentially deadly mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus have been confirmed in Massachusetts, one of which was reportedly confirmed in a 5-year-old girl.
The Massachusetts Department of Health on Friday announced the two additional cases, bringing the state’s total to seven. A woman in her 60s from eastern Worcester County is infected, as is a “female under the age of 18 from southwestern Middlesex County,” officials said. Local news outlets reported the latter case involves a 5-year-old girl who is in critical condition.
"As a result, the risk level in Framingham, Marlborough, Northborough, and Sudbury has been raised to critical and the risk level in Berlin, Boylston, Hudson, Maynard, Stow, and Wayland has been raised to high,” state health officials said.
Overall, 36 Massachusetts communities are at critical risk for the virus, 42 are at high risk, and 115 are at moderate risk. A map showing the affected areas can be found here.
EEE, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a rare disease spread by infected mosquitoes. EEE “is one of a group of mosquito-transmitted viruses that can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis),” the federal health agency says.
"Even though temperatures have cooled off, it is not unusual to see human EEE cases confirmed in September."
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.
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."
The best way to prevent EEE virus and other mosquito-borne ailments is by draining standing water — like in birdbaths, buckets or on pool covers — as stagnant water can serve as a breeding ground for these insects. Other preventive measures include covering skin with long-sleeved pants and shirts while outside and properly using insect repellent containing DEET.
"Even though temperatures have cooled off, it is not unusual to see human EEE cases confirmed in September,” the state’s Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement. "This is why we continue to urge the public to take seriously the threat that mosquitoes can pose and take steps to avoid being bitten."