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Mosquitoes spread a rare brain-infecting virus in Florida



Equine encephalitis virus (red), observed increased in the tissue of the salivary glands of an infected mosquito. [19659003] Image: Fred Murphy; Sylvia Whitfield (CDC)

One of the most dangerous but thankfully rare mosquito-borne diseases has been spotted again in Florida, state health officials say. According to a public consultation issued this month by the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEEV) was found in the state. The virus is capable of causing severe brain damage, which can kill up to one-third of its human casualties.

EEEV can be spread by several types of mosquitoes, including those who make their home in warmer areas of the United States, although many people infected with EEEV either do not develop or only have flu-like symptoms, about 5 percent continue to experience severe swelling of the brain (titular encephalitis). This swelling can then lead to headache, drowsiness, convulsions and coma, with death occurring as quickly as two days after the onset of symptoms. And even if you are lucky enough to experience the experience, you will probably remain neurologically injured throughout.

The saving grace is that EEEV rarely comes into contact with people. Its main vector species (the disease-spreading glitch) tend to live in swampy areas far from cities. Humans – and ironically – are, in fact, a dead end for the virus because it does not multiply enough in our bodies to allow other mosquitoes to suck it back and maintain the transmission chain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an average of seven cases of EEEV diagnosed annually in the United States. In 2018, there were only six.

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Still, Florida is one of the states where EEEV is known to appear, along with Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina. Health officials and researchers in the US often use chicken cutlets as a canary in a coal mine for mosquito-borne diseases such as EEEV and West Nile virus, placing them in endemic areas where mosquitoes like to visit frequently and test their blood periodically. According to the health department, the virus was detected in these so-called bird watchers.

"Several chickens with clocks in the same herd have tested positive for EEEV," the advisor said. "The risk of human transmission has increased."

There is nothing immediate about panic here. But diseases such as EEEV and West Nile – currently the most common mosquito disease in the United States – will undoubtedly become more common in the country as climate change progresses. And there is currently no specific EEEV treatment or vaccine available. Like many things affected by climate change, this terrible, though rare, grief is poised to hurt more people in the not too distant future.

For those who want to mitigate the risk of mosquito bites, you should use repellents. on yourself and your clothes (repellents made with DEET, picaridin, lemon eucalyptus oil, para-menthan-diol and IR3535 are effective according to health officials). People who work in areas where mosquitoes are constantly present can also benefit from wearing long pants and sleeves. And clearing all sources of stagnant water outside your home and maintaining a clean swimming pool also helps.


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