The recent rash of Triple E and West Nile Virus cases in New England has people on edge- and reaching for bug spray.
Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or triple E, is an illness characterized by swelling of the brain. It is caused by a virus that you can get from the bite of an infected mosquito. It’s not passed person to person.
Triple E cases are very rare. In the United States, usually only about 5-10 Triple E cases are reported annually. Most cases of the virus come from the Atlantic and Gulf Coast States.
An estimated 1/3 of patients with Triple E die, and many survivors have mild to severe brain damage. Symptoms appear 4 to 10 days after the bite, starting with a sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting (which is extremely common with other viral illness). This illness, however, can then progress into disorientation, seizures, and coma.
The diagnosis of the virus is based on blood tests and tests of the spinal fluid, the fluid that lines the brain and spinal cord. These tests typically look for antibodies that the body makes against the viral infection.
There is no specific treatment for Triple E. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and there are no effective anti-viral drug discovered to help yet. The best we can do is called supportive care, which often includes observation in the hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids, and prevention of other infections.
West Nile Virus, on the other hand, is the virus from the bite of a mosquito that has fed on an infected bird.
About four out of five people infected with West Nile virus don’t have any symptoms and most will become immune. Although, one in five infections do result in West Nile fever. Symptoms include fever, headache and fatigue.
Only about 1 in 150 people will develop meningitis or inflammation of the fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain or encephalitis, inflammation of the brain itself. When this happens, it can be very serious and the death rate approaches 10%. That makes the overall odds of dying from a West Nile infection about one in 1,500. Those who are elderly are most at risk for this.
Similar to Triple EEE, there is no specific treatment for West Nile virus infection. More severe cases require intensive hospital care.
People are usually most at risk of mosquito borne illnesses from late spring through early fall. The risk drops dramatically, however, with the reduction of the mosquito population when there’s a hard frost, which typically happens in the New England area in mid to late October.
To reduce the chance of getting infected with any mosquito borne illnesses, use insect repellants containing DEET and wear protective clothing. Have secure, intact screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out. In addition, eliminate mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets, barrels, and other containers. Drill holes in tire swings so the water can drain out.
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