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Protecting Against EEE is Simple: Reduce Risk of Getting Bitten

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
September 16, 2009

Alan Eaton has this to say about Eastern equine encephalitis: what a sad reason to die.

The entomology specialist’s reasoning is that the steps necessary to help avoid the potentially fatal disease are as simple as reducing the chance of getting bitten by a mosquito. 

Eastern equine encephalitis, also known as Triple E or sleeping sickness, infects birds and is transmitted to horses and people by mosquitoes. People can protect themselves by using insect repellent, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and staying indoors within an hour of dusk, when mosquitoes become most active.

September always has presented the highest risk period, according to Eaton, a professor with Cooperative Extension. The threat remains through the first or second killing frost.

“The simplest thing to do is reduce the risk of getting bitten,” Eaton says. “If we’re outside around dusk; if we’re near shrubs or water, mosquitoes will find us.”

Eaton notes the risk of people getting EEE has increased this year as many pools of mosquitoes have tested positive for the arbovirus. As of Sept. 9, there were 29 positive mosquito groups. The highest season was in 2006 when there were 40 such pools.

In 2005, there were 21 human cases of EEE in the United States. New Hampshire had seven, with two deaths. But since 2005, the number of human cases has gone down.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms range from mild flu-like illness (although, unlike the flu, it can not be passed to others by cough or sneezing) to inflammation of the brain, coma, and death.

“If someone gets Triple E, the chances of dying are about one in three,” Eaton says. “People who survive have lifelong neurological problems as a result.”

Which is why, in addition to dressing appropriately, people should use a repellent, he says.

“There are several effective ingredients now. Before there was only DEET and a lot of people either didn’t want to use it or were allergic,” Eaton says.

Picaridin has been in use since 2005. Unlike DEET, it doesn’t dissolve some plastics or finishes, and no allergic reactions have been reported. Avon, Cutter, Go Ready, Natrapel, OFF, Repel, Sawyer and Walgreens use picaridin.

Natural alternatives include the oil of lemon eucalyptus and citronella. For more information on repellents read Eaton’s summary at http://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000963_Rep1073.pdf

“There is a really low risk of getting the arbovirus but there are really high consequences,” Eaton says. “That’s why it makes sense to take these simple protective measures and use common sense.”    
To read about EEE in N.H. this year visit: http://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000534_Rep1070.pdf


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