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Three Americans die after contracting rare mosquito-borne brain infections



Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEE), observed for infection of cells in the central nervous system.
Image: Dr Fred Murphy; Sylvia Whitfield (CDC)

On Monday, Rhode Island health officials said a resident had died after being infected with the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus. The death marks the third EEE-related death reported this year, with a second reported in less than a week.

Summer is ending for many in the US, but this rare mosquito-borne viral infection is still hard to live on. Health officials first reported the case of residents with EEE in late August, noting at the time that the person was in a critical condition. It was the first case reported in Rhode Island since 2010. Residents discovered only in their 50s died on Sunday, making their first EEE-related death documented in the state since 2007.

Mosquitoes and equidae (horses) in the county where the resident was found to be carrying EEE, health officials also said on Monday. The virus was found elsewhere in the state and, in response, areas thought to be at high risk of EEE exposure were sprayed with insecticides for two nights. Mosquito infection

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EEE is certainly one of the more terrifying mosquito-borne diseases . Most people who are infected with the virus never develop any serious symptoms. But in a small percentage of humans, it manages to reach the nervous system, where it causes brain swelling that gives the virus its name. This form of the disease is particularly deadly, with a 33 percent mortality rate. There are currently no specialized treatments for EEE or a preventative vaccine against humans.

Fortunately, EEE is usually stored in mosquitoes that live far from humans, and humans are not part of the natural life cycle of the virus. This means that serious cases of EEE are rare and the US reports an average of seven cases per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, this year may turn out to be relatively bad.

Just last weekend, Michigan health officials announced that a resident had died after an EEE contract, and the state had documented four other confirmed or suspected cases. The first EEE-related death reported this year was reported in late August by Massachusetts health officials; the state has reported a total of seven cases since last week (another Massachusetts man with EEE is reported to be in a coma, although his current condition is unknown).

For now, officials have warned that the peak EEE transmission season will continue in September for people living in swampy areas in the eastern and southern United States. And of course, as the warming climate makes life more mosquito-friendly, it is almost certain that EEE and other mosquito-borne diseases such as the West Nile will become more common throughout the year.


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