Rare and Sometimes Deadly Mosquito-Borne Illness Detected in Florida: What to Know

The EEE virus — if contracted by humans — can in extreme cases cause encephalitis, a rare cause of brain infection and swelling

Aedes aegypti (dengue, zika, yellow fever mosquito) biting human skin, frontal view
Mosquito. Photo: Getty

Health officials in Florida are warning about the increased risk of a rare, mosquito-borne virus that could have deadly consequences if contracted by humans.

On July 25, the Florida Department of Health in Orange County (DOH-Orange) advised residents about the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus after a group of sentinel chickens in the same flock tested positive for the infection.

It’s not just chickens. In 2019 alone, EEE has been detected 25 horses, one emu, one eagle, and 77 chickens across the sunshine state, Fox-13 reported. The affected animals have been found in 27 counties including Polk, Pasco, Hernado, and Citrus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the EEE virus — if contracted by humans — can in extreme cases cause encephalitis, a rare cause of brain infection and swelling.

Only about seven cases of EEE virus in humans are reported each year but “approximately 30 percent of people with EEE die and many survivors have ongoing neurologic problems,” they said.

The time from an infected mosquito bite to the onset of the illness ranges from 4 to 10 days. Though some people who are bit will not develop any symptoms, those with systemic infections will feel an abrupt onset of illness characterized by “chills, fever, malaise, arthralgia, and myalgia” for 1 to 2 weeks, the CDC said.

In the rare case of encephalitis, death usually occurs 2 to 10 days after the onset of symptoms, the CDC said. “Of those who recover, many are left with disabling and progressive mental and physical sequelae, which can range from minimal brain dysfunction to severe intellectual impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction,” the CDC said.

Currently, no antiviral treatment for clinical EEE infections or a human vaccine against EEE infection is available, according to the CDC.

People at risk can take precautions, however.

DOH-Orange urged those in high-risk areas to limit exposure by draining standing water areas around their homes that can be a breeding ground for mosquitos, like birdbaths, pots, and pet water bowls.

They also encouraged residents to cover their skin with long-sleeve clothing and pants, and to apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing.

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