Mosquitoes test positive for EEE in Vermont for first time in years
Mosquitoes in two Vermont counties have tested positive for a serious and potentially fatal mosquito-transmitted infection, for the first time in eight years.
“It’s sort of big news, in that it’s a potentially very awful illness,” said Patti Casey, whoruns a surveillance program with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
Casey added that Vermont is the first state in New England to report finding EEE this year
For most people with EEE, symptoms are similar to the cold or flu.
But the disease can result in severe illness — including encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can be fatal.
And while there’s a vaccine against the disease for horses, that’s not the case for people.
“There is no specific treatment or vaccine in humans, it’s all supportive care if you get ill,” said Dr. Natalie Kwit, a public health expert and veterinarian with the Vermont Department of Health.
The virus was first detected in Vermont in 2011 in a flock of emus, and in subsequent years several horses and two people in Vermont died from infections.
The past few summers have been fairly dry, and mosquitoes — and the diseases they carry — have been less numerous.
“This year is, notably, a lot worse,” said Casey.
Earlier this month, West Nile virus was also found in mosquitoes in Alburgh and Vergennes.
Other states across the region have also seen an uptick in mosquito numbers thanks to wet weather, Casey added, but not quite like what's been recorded in Vermont. “I think we might be winning the prize for just the bump in numbers.”
“It needs a fairly high water table,” Casey explained. “It breeds and lays eggs in these funny little places that are sort of hard to reach in swamps, like under tree roots and stuff. And all of this water is just making it a very successful year.”
Those particular mosquitoes do not bite people, only birds. But when other mosquito species bite an infected bird, they can pick up the virus, then transmit the disease to people and mammals.
Now, Casey’s team is ramping up their testing efforts — adding four more traps sites, for a total of 109 across the state they visit at least weekly.
At the same time, the state health department is amplifying their messaging.
“We want everyone to be taking precautions against mosquito bites right now,” said Kwit, with the Department of Health.
That includes wearing long sleeves and pants, limiting time outside at dawn and dusk, using repellent labeled as effective against mosquitoes, repairing screens, and getting rid of standing water around your home.
“I’m hopeful we keep these cooler evening temperatures,” Kwit said. “Naturally people are less likely to get bitten by mosquitoes by staying covered during those times of day when mosquitoes might be more active.”
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