Eastern Equine Encephalitis: Hard to Pronounce, Even Harder to Contract

By Kristina Esserian, Global Issues Junior Division Head. Photo found here.

What is it?

“Eastern Equine Encephalitis,” commonly called the Triple E virus, has been the latest epidemic spreading throughout Massachusetts. You’ve most likely heard of this frightening and death-causing disease in one way or another. Whether you have been warned by a parent, teacher, coach, or friend, they’ve probably informed you to be extremely cautious while outdoors. Some will stress wearing as much bug spray AS POSSIBLE, and others are so concerned that they will not go outside after certain hours! You may know the surface information regarding this “epidemic,” but the hardcore facts lie deeper than the distant buzzing of a mosquito’s wings. 

The Facts

EEE virus is a rare cause of brain infections (encephalitis). Only a few cases are reported in the United States each year. Most occur in eastern or Gulf Coast states. Approximately 30% of people with EEE die and many survivors have ongoing neurologic problems” (CDC).  The triple E virus is said to come from infected birds near freshwater swamps and other animals that the mosquito, “Culiseta melanura,” affects. Once the disease enters your bloodstream, it travels through the nervous system and lands in the brain, causing many damaging and incurable symptoms. 

While this disease is very deadly, there are extremely slight chances of actually being affected by it. Dr. William Schaffner, MD, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee claimed, “the odds of a person contracting Eastern equine encephalitis are about the same as hitting the Powerball jackpot” (Schaffner). When it comes to the jackpot, you wish in favor of these odds, but, when referring to a deadly disease, you are glad that the chances are so minor. Yet, if by slight chances someone is infected, they have about 1⁄3 of a risk of death. This isn’t exactly the news you’d want to hear, but it’s extremely important to be aware. 

Where Has it Spread, and Who Will it Affect?

Photo found here

This unexpected epidemic has become some of the latest worries among adults and children alike. Luckily, we don’t experience the spread of viruses and diseases very often in Massachusetts, so this shocked us all, and warnings spread rapidly. While it has spread to multiple places around Massachusetts, some have a much higher risk of the disease than others (as seen on the map above). It is primarily in the south and west regions of Boston, while a majority of Massachusetts is still at moderate risk. Speaking for us at LCA, there seems to be an extremely low risk of this disease if any. [Warning: depending on where you happen to live, this could be a totally different case] 

What Precautions Should You Take?

Photo found here.

Luckily, there are several ways to reduce the risks of being bitten by a Mosquito when going outdoors! Because mosquitoes generally come out at night and around swampy areas, some towns (with higher risks) have even set a ban on outdoor sports practices after certain hours. For most towns, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to go outside at ALL, rather that you should take proper precautions- here are a few!

  • The number one method for staying cautious is using bug spray. In fact, some schools from Maine (which didn’t have triple E) that came to play at LCA were extremely nervous and ended up spraying an entire bottle on themselves before going outside. The LCA teams had a good laugh, and couldn’t breathe from the fumes in the air. It is always better safe than sorry!
  • Along with this bug spray, it’s helpful to wear many layers and cover yourself up when outside. Mosquitoes like warmer weather, so even though it may be weird to wear long sleeves when it’s hot, it could lower the risks of contracting this disease. Luckily, the weather is getting colder as the days go on, so the mosquitoes (which could be holding this disease) are disappearing. 
  • These tips are not only important for current situations, but for future ones to come. We hope and pray that the next epidemic like this will be long from now, but they are very unpredictable and could, unfortunately, happen again. 

Now that you know the facts, enjoy the remaining days with warm weather, but most importantly, stay safe LCA!