Eastern Equine Encephalitis

Since the first of the month, two-dozen horses have died in Holmes and Washington Counties from Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

Area health officials are quite concerned. In fact, horse owners need to make sure their animals are properly vaccinated.

Not only for encephalitis, but also for West Nile.

Horse owners who believe their animal may have Eastern Equine Encephalitis should notify their extension office. The blood needs to be tested for the disease.

It's important to note that Eastern Equine Encephalitis, often called "sleeping sickness," cannot be spread from horses to humans.

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Eastern Equine Encephalitis

  • Eastern equine encephalitis is found mainly along the eastern seaboard of the United States and on the eastern Gulf coast. The virus grows in birds that live in freshwater swamps, and it is usually found only in these birds, and in the mosquitoes that feed on these birds.

  • Anyone can get eastern equine encephalitis, but the disease is more common in young children and in persons over the age of 55.

  • It has a complex life cycle involving birds and a specific type of mosquito, Culiseta melanura, that lives in marshes and swamps.

  • These mosquitoes feed only on birds, they do not feed on humans or other mammals. In rare cases, however, the virus escapes from its normal habitat and infects other mosquitoes that feed on both birds and mammals (including horses and humans).

  • These mosquitoes can transmit the virus to animals and people. The risk of getting Eastern Equine Encephalitis is highest from late July through September.

Symptoms

  • Most people infected with the virus have no symptoms, others get only a mild flu-like illness with fever, headache, and a sore throat.

  • In rare cases, infection of the central nervous system occurs, causing sudden fever and severe headache, and followed quickly by seizures and coma.

  • About half of these patients die from the diseases. Of those who survive, many suffer permanent brain damage.

  • Symptoms usually occur 5 to 15 days after the bite of an infected mosquito.

Prevention

  • There is an eastern equine encephalitis vaccine for horses, but not for people. The only way to protect yourself is to keep mosquitoes from biting you.

  • If you must be outdoors at dawn or dusk, the time when mosquitoes that carry eastern equine encephalitis are most active, wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Use a mosquito repellent that contains DEET and follow the directions on the label.
  • Repair any holes in your screens and make sure they are tightly attached to all our doors and windows.

  • Mosquitoes can breed in water that collects in ditches, clogged gutters, old tires, wheelbarrows, and wading pool. Don't let stagnant water collect around your home.

    Source: http://www.state.nj.us/health/cd/f_eee.htm contributed to this report.


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