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A Super Rare Mosquito Virus Just Killed Someone in Massachusetts. Should Families Be Worried?

A rare but deadly disease is infecting people in multiple states, but you can protect yourself and your family.

Flickr/UK College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

Public health officials around the country are issuing warnings that human cases of eastern equine encephalitis, commonly known as EEE, have been detected in their communities.

As its name suggests, the virus is typically found in the eastern United States. It received its name after a major outbreak among horses in the mid-Atlantic in 1933. It can cause encephalitis, brain swelling that can lead to a host of neurological issues and death. Not good.

One case has been confirmed in Michigan this year, and officials there are investigating other possible human infections. Massachusetts has had four confirmed cases, including one fatality. The virus has also been found in animals in Connecticut, Delaware, and New Hampshire.

Over the last decade, there have been an average of 5.5 infections per year, and at least one person has died from the disease every year. So we’re not at the level of an out-of-the-ordinary national outbreak yet, and EEE remains rare, though it seems likely 2019 will be an above-average year for the disease, which the CDC says is typically seen from late spring through early fall, with a few rare winter cases in subtropical endemic areas like the Gulf states.

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EEE is mosquito-borne, and it can’t be transmitted from person to person. There is no treatment for the disease, as no anti-viral drug has been shown to be effective.

No vaccine is available, so the only way to prevent EEE is to prevent mosquito bites. Here’s what the CDC recommends:

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  • Use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin and/or clothing. The repellent/insecticide permethrin can be used on clothing to protect through several washes. Always follow the directions on the package.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants when weather permits.
  • Have secure, intact screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out
  • Eliminate mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flowerpots, buckets, barrels, and other containers. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used.

These these warnings are a reminder that protecting yourself and your family from mosquitos isn’t just about preventing itching and rashes. And by following these steps, you’ll also be preventing other mosquito-borne diseases, none of which you want your family anywhere near.