Many viral illnesses have affected the United States in varying capacities, from wreaking havoc on its populace to fizzling out without causing substantial damage. Notable among these are diseases like Malaria, Ebola, and Covid-19. Now, there are reports of another dangerous, sometimes deadly, viral disease surfacing in the country.

Dengue fever vector, mosquito biting hand.
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The first instances of this new illness were reported in New York, followed by detections in South Carolina. The virus in question is Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). The question remains whether this emerging virus warrants national concern.

Who Is At Risk Of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) Illness?

Those who are at risk for contracting Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) disease include:

  • People residing in regions where the virus is prevalent. These areas range from the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states to the Great Lakes region.
  • The risk increases for those involved in outdoor work and recreational activities in areas where the virus is endemic.
  • The likelihood of developing severe disease after contracting EEE is higher in individuals below the age of 15 and those over the age of 50.
  • On the brighter side, it is believed that survivors of EEE gain lifetime immunity against the disease, protecting them from getting re-infected.
Computer graphic image of a virus as seen like through a microscope.
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Where Is EEE A Risk In South Carolina?

  • EEE has been reported in animals and people throughout the state.
  • EEE is most commonly found in swamp and bog habitats.
  • All residents of and visitors to areas where EEE activity has been identified are at risk of infection.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) Infection?

Many people infected with Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) won't show any symptoms. For some, symptoms may be present and resemble those of a febrile illness, such as chills, fever, fatigue, and muscle or joint pain. These symptoms can linger for weeks or even months, although most people recover completely.

A very small percentage of those infected with EEE will develop a serious neurologic condition such as encephalitis or meningitis. These severe cases present with symptoms such as, high fever, headache, restlessness, drowsiness, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, blue skin discoloration, seizures, and even coma.

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Getty Images/Image Source

While anyone can contract a severe case of EEE, it is most common in children, people over 60, and individuals with certain pre-existing conditions such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or those who have received organ transplants.

Recovery from these severe cases can take a long time and result in lasting physical and mental damage. This can range from minor brain dysfunction to serious intellectual disabilities, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and dysfunction of the cranial nerves. Many of these patients, sadly, die within a few years. Roughly 30% of individuals who develop a neurologic infection due to EEE lose their lives to the disease.

How Is Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) Treated?

There is currently no vaccine available for EEE infection or a particular antiviral treatment for clinical EEEV infections. If EEE is suspected, the patient should immediately seek medical help. The healthcare provider will order appropriate diagnostic tests and provide necessary supportive treatment.

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Getty Images

How Do I Protect Myself And My Family From Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE)?

To protect yourself and your loved ones from Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), you should take steps to minimize your exposure to mosquitoes as there's no human vaccine for this virus. Here are some prevention strategies you can employ:

  • Utilize insect repellents: Use products with DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus when outdoors. Permethrin can be sprayed on clothes and it provides protection even after several washes. Follow the instructions given on the product label.
  • Opt for protective outfits: Consider wearing long pants and sleeves when the climate allows.
  • Fix and use screens: Ensure your doors and windows have firm, intact screens to stop mosquitoes from entering your house.
  • Prevent mosquito breeding: Mosquitoes can reproduce even in tiny quantities of stagnant water. Remove potential mosquito breeding areas by eliminating any stagnant water in places like flower pots, barrels, buckets, and tires. Frequently change the water in pet dishes and bird baths. For water-filled toys like tire swings, drill holes for drainage. Drain kids' pools after usage and store them sideways.

Read more about EEE here, and more about South Carolina Health here.

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