Public health officials are warning residents that the “buzz” around EEE and West Nile Virus is not simply being drummed up or exaggerated by widespread media coverage.
“It’s definitely not a media phenomenon,” said Joseph Wendelken, public information officer for RIDOH, on Wednesday. “[We’re experiencing] A higher than average risk in Southern New England when it comes to mosquito-borne illnesses.”
The state Departments of Environmental Management (DEM) and Health (RIDOH) announced on Tuesday that a second mosquito carrying the life-threatening illness Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) was trapped at a testing location at Chapman Swamp in Westerly. Another site in Tiverton contained the first mosquito in Rhode Island to test positive for West Nile Virus.
To date, that marks four EEE-positive mosquitoes from two separate mosquito species tested in traps in Rhode Island – two in Central Falls and two in Westerly, which demonstrates the possible range of the illness – and also includes the first case of diagnosed EEE in a human in the Ocean State since 2010, when a West Warwick resident tested positive for the disease on Aug. 30. A horse tested positive for the disease in Westerly on Aug. 29.
In addition to the positive testing in Rhode Island, there have been four human cases already diagnosed in Massachusetts.
In response to the uptick in activity and positive testing and with input from entomologists at the University of Rhode Island, DEM has added 10 new traps in five new communities, making for a total of 38 trapping locations in 23 Rhode Island municipalities. New traps have been set in West Warwick, West Greenwich, Burrillville, North Smithfield and Cumberland – areas that border “high risk” areas in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“Typically, DEM sets between 25 and 30 traps in Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown, North Kingstown, Exeter, Warwick, Cranston, Johnston, Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, East Providence, Barrington, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton, Portsmouth, and Newport,” a joint DEM and RIDOH press release sent out on Tuesday reads. “By increasing trapping and tracking mosquito species, volume, and infection, the state is working to assess the risk of further human disease.”
There is no vaccine to protect against EEE and no medical treatment available to fight the illness once it is contracted. The disease can cause swelling of the brain, and proves fatal in an average of 30 percent of cases, according to the Center for Disease Control. Symptoms include a sudden onset, headache, high fever, chills and vomiting, which can progress into seizures and coma.
“EEE is a very serious illness but it’s also on the rarer side,” Wendelken said, adding that in an average year, there are about seven diagnoses of EEE in the entire country.
“All we can do is provide supportive care,” Wendelken added in terms of what should happen if you are experiencing symptoms believed to be associated with a mosquito illness. “The sooner that someone gets in contact with a healthcare provider and gets some of those symptoms treated, the better. But it’s a very serious illness. Even when people are getting treatment, the mortality rate is still very high.”
The best way to avoid contracting either EEE or West Nile is by taking preventative steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. DEM and RIDOH have released a long list of recommendations, including:
Get rid of mosquito breeding grounds
They also include best practices for horse owners, who are particularly susceptible to the diseases. They advise horse owners to vaccinate their animals early in the season and practice the following:
Wendelken urged residents that there is no boundary within Rhode Island for mosquito illnesses, and that everyone should take the same precautions.
“Those measures that people should be taking in Westerly they should also be taking in Providence and Central Falls and Newport and every other city and town,” he said.
The state has continued to recommend school districts and municipalities reschedule sporting activities and other events that would take place during early morning or dusk hours, when mosquitoes are most active.
“The ‘smart scheduling’ of events is intended to help minimize the risk of mosquito bites for players, coaches, and spectators,” the release states. “RIDOH recommends that smart scheduling stay in effect for the remainder of the mosquito season, which typically ends in mid-October (after the first hard frost).”
Visit www.health.ri.gov/mosquito for additional mosquito prevention tips, videos, and local data. For more information about DEM divisions and programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow DEM on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.