EEE caution being urged

Published 5:12 pm Sunday, September 19, 2010

Staff Writer

The Beaufort County Health Department is urging residents to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites after a horse tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis earlier this month and was euthanized.
A rare disease, Eastern Equine Encephalitis is more common in the eastern parts of North Carolina. It is transmitted by some species of mosquitoes. The viral illness causes an inflammation of the brain and can be fatal to both animals and humans.
“If the right mosquito bites a human at the right time, they could get it,” cautioned Eugene McRoy, program specialist for the Beaufort County Health Department’s Environmental Health Division. “EEE tends to be rare, but it does show up, and September seems to be the time it shows up. September tends to be the peak month because it is not too hot and not too cold.”
Flu-like symptoms, which can develop up to two weeks following a mosquito bite, include rapid onset of fever and headache. Since there is no cure for EEE, medical professionals are limited to treating the symptoms of the disease.
North Carolina averages about one human case and 10 equine cases of EEE each year. Young children and the elderly face the highest risk, and roughly 50 percent of human cases are fatal.
“As far as horses getting it, there is no real concern because there is a vaccine for horses,” McRoy said. “Most (owners) get them vaccinated in the spring, and it is relatively inexpensive. There isn’t a vaccine for humans, and there are one or two cases a year for humans.”
The health department is cautioning people to avoid mosquito bites by reducing the time spent outdoors, especially in the early morning and early evening hours. Light-colored pants, long-sleeve shirts and mosquito repellent also are helpful in warding off mosquitoes.
“Our main point was to let people know there was an occurrence and get them to take precautions,” McRoy said.
Residents also are encouraged to reduce mosquito breeding areas around their homes by removing any containers that can hold water, clearing debris from gutters, repairing leaky outdoor faucets, changing water in bird baths and pet bowls twice a week and using tight-fitting screened windows and doors.