Killer mosquito-borne virus arrives in eastern Massachusetts
Biting mosquito (Shutterstock)

A potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus called Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE or triple-E) has infected at least one patient in eastern Massachusetts.

WWLP Channel 22 reported Friday that the disease has infected one person and that conditions are right for the disease to spread.

EEE is a viral brain infection that causes fever, headache, hallucinations and seizures, and in one-third of infected patients, death. A patient in Plymouth County tested positive for EEE infection on July 15.

“Even though the only reported case of EEE in Massachusetts was more than 80 miles to our east, our chances in western Massachusetts of getting it just went up. But it probably wouldn’t be the mosquitoes bringing it here,” said Channel 22 meteorologist Nick Bannin.

The disease travels over long distances in the bodies of birds, but is spread to other animals when mosquitos bite the birds and carry the virus to their next host animal.

Entomologist Bob Russell of American Pest Solutions said to Channel 22, “Mosquitoes are an unusual insect because bacteria can survive in its gut and then it can be regurgitated or come out in its saliva when it bites and that’s how you get transmission.”

According to the CDC, the incubation period between a bite by an infected mosquito and the appearance of the first symptoms is typically 4 to 10 days.

The virus has two modes of infection, systemic and encephalitic.

"Systemic infection has an abrupt onset and is characterized by chills, fever, malaise, arthralgia [joint pain], and myalgia [muscle pain]," said the CDC website. "The illness lasts 1 to 2 weeks, and recovery is complete when there is no central nervous system involvement. In infants, the encephalitic form is characterized by abrupt onset; in older children and adults, encephalitis is manifested after a few days of systemic illness. Signs and symptoms in encephalitic patients are fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, cyanosis [blueness of the lips and extremities], convulsions, and coma."

Approximately 33 percent of patients with full-blown encephalitis will die of the disease. Typically, death comes 2 to 10 days after the first symptoms, but can actually come much later. Of those who do survive a brush with the deadly brain infection, many are left with permanent damage.

After-effects on the brain from EEE can range from minor damage to significant mental impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Many severely afflicted patients die within a few years of infection.

Area residents are urged to avoid outdoor activity at the mosquito-heavy times of day, dawn and twilight. Mosquito repellants are recommended, as well as long sleeves and pants. Wet or heavily wooded areas should be avoided.

There is no vaccine for EEE, and CDC recommends that "(p)atients with suspected EEE should be evaluated by a healthcare provider, appropriate serologic and other diagnostic tests ordered, and supportive treatment provided."

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