Summer is pretty much over, but the danger of Eastern Equine Encephalitis isn’t. Massachusetts now has its first Triple E fatality, with the death of eighty-year-old Martin Newfield of Raynham. He passed away only nine days after the first showing of symptoms.
Eastern Equine Encephalitis, also known as Triple E, is an illness characterized by swelling of the brain. Triple E is caused by a virus transmitted from the bite of an infected mosquito. It’s not passed person to person and it is very rare. In the United States, approximately 5-10 Triple E cases are reported annually. Most cases come from the Atlantic and Gulf Coast States. Massachusetts hasn’t had a documented fatality since 2006, until now with Mr. Newfield’s death. In 2008, a 73-year-old Essex County man died of EEE after being bitten by mosquitoes, while vacationing in northern New England.
Symptoms appear 4 to 10 days after the bite. They start with a sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting. The illness can then progress into disorientation, seizures, and coma. A third of patients with Triple E die and many survivors have mild to severe brain damage.
The diagnosis of Triple E is based on blood tests and tests of the spinal fluid, or the fluid that lines the brain and spinal cord. These tests typically look for antibodies that the body makes against the viral infection.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for Triple E. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no effective anti-viral drugs have been discovered. The best we can do is to give supportive care, which often includes observation in the hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids, and prevention of other infections.
People are most at risk from late spring through early fall in the northeast. Although in the Gulf States, you can occasionally see cases in the winter. Anyone in an area of infected mosquitoes is at risk. Obviously, people who live in wooded areas or people who work outdoors are more at risk because they come into contact with more mosquitoes.
To prevent Triple E, the best thing you can do is to use things like insect repellant containing DEET, and wear protective clothing. Have secure, intact screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out. Eliminate mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets, barrels, and other containers. Drill holes in tire swings so the water drains out. Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used.
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