MOREHEAD CITY — A case of mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus has recently been identified in a horse in Carteret County. An eight-year-old mare was euthanized after contracting the EEE virus.
Other cases of EEE virus have been identified across the state since the beginning of July. No human cases of EEE have been identified in North Carolina so far this year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EEE is a rare disease that is caused by a virus spread by infected mosquitoes. EEE virus is one of a group of mosquito-transmitted viruses that can cause inflammation of the brain, also known as encephalitis.
Only a few cases of people infected by EEE are reported in the United States each year. Most cases occur in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states. Most years, no human cases are reported in North Carolina, but in the years when one or more cases are reported, they tend to be from the eastern part of the state where the virus is normally passed back and forth between wild birds and mosquitoes.
EEE virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Disease transmission does not occur directly from person to person.
Anyone in an area where the virus is circulating can get infected with EEE virus. The risk is highest for people who live or visit woodland habitats, and people who work outside or participate in outdoor recreational activities because of greater exposure to potentially infected mosquitoes.
Most persons affected with EEE have no apparent symptoms. According to CDC, severe cases of EEE (involving encephalitis) begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures or coma, which may result in death or in severe brain damage. About one in three reported symptomatic cases is fatal, with young children and the elderly most at-risk.
There is no vaccine to protect humans from EEE and no cure once a human is infected. Therapy is limited to treating the symptoms of the disease.
“If someone is experiencing flu-like symptoms, including a fever and a headache, they should contact their medical provider immediately,” stated Kim Davis, nursing director for the County Health Department in a press release issued Wednesday.
The department and animal control encourage horse owners to take this opportunity to speak with their veterinarian to make sure their horses have been fully vaccinated. There is a vaccine for horses to protect against EEE.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends vaccinating against EEE as a part of a core vaccination protocol. Once a horse is infected, therapy is limited to treating the symptoms of the disease, and there is no specific cure.
The health department advises the public to remain diligent in their personal mosquito protection efforts. These efforts should include the “5 D’s” for prevention:
- Dusk and Dawn: Minimize time outdoors when mosquitoes are seeking blood. The common species that transmit EEE to humans often bite at just before or after sunset.
- Dress: Wear loose, light-colored clothing that covers most of your skin.
- DEET: When the potential exists for exposure to mosquitoes, repellents containing DEET are recommended. Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are other repellent options. See epa.gov/insect-repellents for options.
- Drainage: Check your home to rid the area of standing water, which is where mosquitoes can lay their eggs.
- Dispose of any tires. Tires can provide habitat to breed thousands of mosquitoes.
Other tips are:
- Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers.
- Clear roof gutter of debris.
- Clean pet water dishes regularly.
- Check and empty children’s toys.
- Repair leaky outdoor faucets.
- Change the water in bird baths at least once a week.
- Turn over canoes and other boats or treat them with approved larvicides.
- Avoid water collecting on pool covers.
- Empty water collected in tarps around the yard or on woodpiles.
- Plug or fill tree holes.
- Add minnows to isolated water such as rain barrels and ornamental ponds.
For more information on Carteret County mosquito spraying efforts and how to request mosquito spraying in your area, contact County Public Works at 252-648-7878. For more information on health prevention efforts, contact the health department at 252-728-8550.