NEW BRITAIN- The latest in health threats is a very rare, but serious disease called The Triple E Virus. There have been four reported cases in Connecticut this year with three being fatal. And there have been about seven deaths in New England in total.
“Triple E is still very rare to be able to get, but the consequences if you do contract it are pretty significant, which is one of the reasons why we’ve seen three fatalities out of four cases here this year; those fatalities were among older adults,” said Charles Brown, Director of Health for Central Connecticut Health District.
The Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEE or Triple E) is a rare cause of brain infections (encephalitis), according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus is carried by birds that live in fresh water swamps and is contracted by mosquitoes that feed on these birds when they die.
“There are two types of mosquitoes involved in the transmission of Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus; one transmits to animals and the other transmits to humans. When you get to the right climactic conditions then you’re going to see more Eastern Equine Encephalitis,” said Virginia Bieluch, MD, Chief of Infectious Diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.
Typically, five to ten human cases are reported annually, with about 33% resulting in death, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any survivors are typically left with brain damage.
“People usually become sick around four to ten days after they’ve been bit by the mosquito. It’s possible that some people become infected and have no symptoms,” said Dr. Bieluch. “Infection usually presents itself as a very sudden onset of fevers, what we call chills, your muscles and your joints ache, you don’t feel well and you can be sick for a week or two and those people usually recover completely. A small percentage of people actually develop encephalitis or involvement of the brain and that presents in addition to fever, headaches, feeling restless and sleepiness. Swelling of the brain can cause vomiting and the patients can progress into a coma and a third of those patients die.”
People over age 50 and under age 15 seem to be at greatest risk for developing severe disease when infected with Triple E.
The first Triple E positive mosquitoes were identified this year in four towns in Connecticut on September 14-16 by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES). They have found an increase in Triple E activity throughout Eastern and Central Connecticut.
“It’s a combination of how warm and probably how wet conditions are. I don’t think anybody has the exact reason, but it’s believed to be just the collision of all the right conditions for the mosquitoes to flourish,” said Dr. Bieluch.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz has attributed the spread of the virus to climate change, citing the number of infections in nearby states and the number of cases that have happened so late in the year.
In 2009, Triple E was confirmed in mosquitoes in sixteen Connecticut towns, but no residents had been identified with the infection. It wasn’t until 2013 the first human case of Triple E infection was reported in Connecticut. An adult resident of Eastern Connecticut was hospitalized for it and died in fall of that year.
“The Connecticut Department of Public Health really have been stressing more individual precautions and that would be things like making sure that you’re wearing mosquito repellent and limiting your outdoor activities at dusk and dawn, as you’ve probably seen on the highway signs if you’ve been on the interstate in the past few weeks,” said Brown.
People who engage in outdoor work and recreational activities in endemic areas are at increased risk of infection. The best precautions to take to protect yourself if you plan to be outdoors for a long period of time are wear shoes, socks, long pants, long-sleeved shirt. Make sure to use netting when sleeping outside. Be sure your doors and window screens fit tight and properly and there are no holes.
“If you have anything like tires, buckets or planters that accumulate water you want to empty them out to keep the mosquitoes from laying eggs there,” said Dr. Bieluch.