Just one bite will do it

CD Menard, News Writer

If one has paid attention to the news these days, one likely has heard about a disturbingly high spike in occurrences of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in the United States.  EEE, an arbovirus, is a virus spread by mosquitos or arthropods. “It is the highest case fatality of all of the arboviruses that occur in the United States,” per Marc Fischer, a medical epidemiologist with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s arboviral disease branch. EEE begins with flu-like symptoms, but the condition may rapidly deteriorate to include seizures and disorientation.  In twenty percent of any EEE infected population, approximately half of these individuals have developed encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, which is a debilitating and a frequently fatal condition. Additionally, a very high mortality rate has always existed among people who have contracted this virus; approximately one third of EEE patients who develop encephalitis die. Patients who survived severe EEE have frequently experienced lasting side effects, including mild to severe brain damage.  

Traditionally, EEE had been a rare occurrence with only approximately seven cases each year, usually in the northeastern U.S., the Great Lakes areas, and the Gulf Coast.  In 2019, however, there has been a large spike in the number of cases that have occurred. Over twenty-eight cases have been reported in seven states and nine people have died.  Sadly, the year is not over yet, so these statistics will continue to climb. To put these numbers in perspective, from 2009 through 2018 there were only seventy two cases recorded in the entire U.S.  In addition, the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, has reported that the number of EEE cases in 2019 has already exceeded the highest number of cases recorded for any year, and that record was set more than fifty years ago.  Researchers at the Massachusetts Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences have been attempting to discover the catalyst for the recent increased incidences of EEE. Their findings created concern about stronger strains emerging, as they discovered that EEE has already evolved into new strains.

As a point of reference,  the West Nile Virus, another arbovirus first appearing in North America about twenty years ago, has caused symptoms similar to EEE.  Symptoms include severe illness and death. Since West Nile first presented in the U.S., thousands of cases have occurred, with over 2,000 deaths.  In this year alone, 543 cases of West Nile have been reported in the U.S. While the numbers that have been reported for EEE are significantly lower, EEE has proven to be a much more deadly illness.  “It’s a devastating disease,” said Scott Weaver, an arbovirus expert working at the University of Texas Medical Branch. EEE’s symptoms have been so severe and deadly that the Pentagon’s Department of Defense has considered EEE as a potential biological weapons threat.  As a result of the Pentagon’s interest, some research into EEE has occurred, but no vaccine will be available to the public any time soon. The reason for this phenomenon has been that pharmaceutical companies have been the ones to create vaccines and they have always been in business to make money.  According to Darci Smith, Chief of the Immunodiagnostics Department at the Naval Medical Research Center in Maryland and an arbovirus expert, Big Pharma has not felt that public concern was substantial enough to guarantee suitable profitability from sales – an element which they have required to justify spending money on development of any vaccine, including an EEE vaccine.

So, what would be the best way to protect against this virus?  At this time, health officials have recommended that people remove any standing water around their homes, use mosquito repellent with Deet and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, wear long sleeves and reschedule activities so as not to be outside after dusk in order to reduce any risk of infection.  If anyone will be interested in this author’s additional advice, it would be to buy stock in Deet and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus manufactured products now and look forward to a comfortable, and perhaps fragrant, retirement.