EEEEEE (eastern equine encephalitis) has killed an elderly woman who lived in Massachusetts’ South Shore region.  85-year-old Janet Dignan of Weymouth passed away last week after being infected with EEE. This was the first case this year for Massachusetts. A few days after Janet’s death, state health officials increased the EEE threat level to high in the neighboring towns of Hanover, Hanson, Rockland, Weymouth, and Whitman. Braintree, Holbrook, Abington, East Bridgewater, Hingham, Norwell, Pembroke, and Brockton have all been raised to a moderate risk.

DPH Public Health Veterinarian Catherine Brown states: “It’s important that residents in these communities take immediate steps to protect themselves and their families from mosquito bites. People need to continue to use insect repellent, cover up exposed skin and avoid being outdoors at dusk and after nightfall when mosquitoes are at their most active.” The town of Weymouth cancelled or re-scheduled outdoor activities including youth sports practices.

So what is EEE?

  • Eastern equine encephalitis is a rare but serious viral disease spread by mosquitoes that can affect people and horses. EEE can also cause disease in captive birds such as the ring-necked pheasant, emu, ostriches, quail and ducks. EEE infection and disease can occasionally occur in other livestock, deer, dogs, other mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
  • There are approximately 5-10 cases reported annually.
  • The disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on infected birds.
  • EEE is not spread person to person, from person to animal, or from animal to person (other than mosquitoes).
  • People of all ages run the risk of becoming infected. However, people under the ages of 15 and over 50 run a greater risk of developing a severe disease.
  • Most people do not develop symptoms. In extreme cases the infection can bring on sudden headache, fever, chills, and vomiting. It can progress into disorientation, seizures, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and coma.
  • Approximately a third of patients who develop EEE die, and many of those who survive have mild to severe brain damage.
  • It can take 4-10 days after a bite for the symptoms to appear.
  • There is no specific treatment for EEE. Antibiotics do not work against viruses and no anti-viral drug has been discovered.

So what can be done to protect you and your family from potentially being infected by EEE?

  • Use insect repellent.
  • Limit time outdoors at dusk when mosquitoes are out.
  • If outside, wear clothing the covers most of your skin.
  • Have good screens on windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from getting indoors.
  • Get rid of any still water surrounding the house because this is where mosquitoes breed.
  • Look into having your yard sprayed. There are many “green” options these days that don’t use chemicals that can be harmful to your family and pets.
  • If you are a horse owner, there are EEE and West Nile Virus vaccines available. Consult with your veterinarian for further information.

Being mindful of EEE and taking the proper precautions to avoid being infected will ensure that you and your family continue to have a fun and enjoyable summer.