BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Two people have been hospitalized in Vermont with Eastern Equine Encephalitis, the state Health Department said Saturday, confirming the state's first human cases.
Both cases involve adults from the Addison and Rutland counties in western Vermont, where mosquito pools recently tested positive for EEE and West Nile virus, the department said. The first and only confirmed cases of EEE in animals to date occurred in September 2011 in emus.
Like West Nile virus, EEE is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. With the human cases confirmed, health and agriculture officials are considering an aerial spraying program as early as next week, weather permitting, for the area where EEE was detected.
"The severe form of EEE is a terrible disease, and we want to take every reasonable action to prevent people from becoming infected," Health Commissioner Harry Chen said in a statement. "These viruses will continue to circulate until the first freeze. Although spraying will help reduce the risk of infection, it's important that we all take personal precautions to avoid mosquito bites no matter where we live."
Elsewhere in northern New England, suspected cases of EEE and West Nike were reported in Maine in August. EEE was found in August in a mosquito batch in New Hampshire, the first time an animal tested positive for the disease there since 2010.
In Vermont, infectious disease epidemiologist Erica Berl said mosquito surveillance is limited. While EEE and West Nile have been detected in one area of the state, Berl warned Vermonters that the viruses could be circulating anywhere.
People infected with EEE can develop two types of illness. One comes on suddenly and is characterized by chills, fever, malaise, joint and muscle pain, and lasts about one to two weeks. The more severe illness affects the central nervous system and causes fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, convulsions and coma. About one-third of people with severe EEE die from the disease, the health department said.
Most who get West Nile show no symptoms. But up to 20 percent of those infected have symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches, nausea and vomiting. About one in 150 people infected with West Nile virus will develop severe illness, which can also be fatal.
To avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes, officials suggest wearing long sleeves and pants, avoid being outdoors at dusk and dawn, get rid of standing water and using repellents. Also, officials say, horses, emus, llamas and alpacas should be vaccinated. There is no vaccine for humans.
Health Department's website: http://healthvermont.gov/prevent/arbovirus/index.aspx