Rare, potentially deadly mosquito-borne disease found in Delaware

WILMINGTON, Delaware (WPVI) -- Health officials in Delaware are alerting residents that a rare, potentially deadly disease spread by mosquitoes has been detected in the state.

Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control reports that Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), known as Triple E, was found at what officials call sentinel chicken stations in southwestern New Castle County, east-central Kent County, and southeastern Sussex County.

The Delaware Division of Public Health Laboratory reported to DNREC that four chickens recently tested positive for EEE from stations monitored by Mosquito Control.

Because of these discoveries, officials say the Mosquito Control Section will increase mosquito population surveillance in areas where the EEE detections have occurred, and take mosquito control actions as warranted to include possible aerial spraying and/or fogging with a spray truck.

"Eastern Equine Encephalitis is a rare, potentially fatal viral disease spread by mosquitoes that can affect both people and horses, and is considered one of the more serious mosquito-transmitted illnesses," DNREC says.

Officials say, while not as common as West Nile Virus, EEE is more virulent with a higher fatality risk.

The Division of Public Health says many people infected with EEE have no apparent signs of illness. Symptoms of EEE often appear four to 10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

"Severe cases of EEE can involve encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, beginning with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, or coma. Approximately 33 percent of EEE cases in people lead to death, and many of those who do survive can experience significant brain damage or other long-term effects," DNREC says.

Officials say those over the age of 50 and under the age of 15 appear to be at greatest risk of developing severe disease when infected with EEE.

"There is no specific treatment for EEE," officials say.

The Mosquito Control Section encourages people to avoid mosquito bites and lessen their chances of contracting a mosquito-transmitted disease by:

- Properly using insect repellent containing DEET or another EPA-recognized ingredient whenever outdoors;

- Covering up exposed skin as much as possible by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants; and
- Avoiding known high mosquito population areas or being outside during times of peak mosquito activity, typically dawn and dusk.

"In addition to avoiding mosquito bites, the Mosquito Control Section advises residents to also reduce mosquito producing habitat on their individual properties and in communities and neighborhoods by draining or removing items that collect water, such as discarded buckets or containers, uncovered trash cans, stagnant birdbaths, unprotected rain barrels or cisterns, old tires, upright wheelbarrows, flower pot liners, depressions in tarps covering boats, clogged rain gutters, corrugated downspout extenders, and unused swimming pools," officials say.

The Mosquito Control Section also encourages residents to report intolerable numbers of biting mosquitoes by calling the numbers below between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday:

- Glasgow Office, serving all of New Castle County and northern Kent County, including the Dover area: 302-836-2555
- Milford Office, serving southern Kent County and all of Sussex County: 302-422-1512

MORE DETAILS: CDC 'Eastern Equine Encephalitis'
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