A dangerous and potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus that causes brain swelling has been discovered in Florida, health officials say.
Florida’s state health department issued a warning last week about the spread of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) after officials found the virus in “several sentinel chickens in the same flock.”
“There has been an increase in mosquito-borne disease activity in areas of Orange County,” Department of Health officials said in a statement. “The risk of transmission to humans has increased.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that there are only seven reported cases of the EEE virus in the U.S. per year, but the disease is known to be fatal in 30 percent of all cases.
“Persons over age 50 and under age 15 seem to be at greatest risk for developing severe disease when infected with EEEV,” the agency states on its website.
“EEEV infection can result in one of two types of illness, systemic or encephalitic (involving swelling of the brain, referred to below as EEE). The type of illness will depend on the age of the person and other host factors,” the statement continues.
Symptoms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, diarrhea, and irritability four to ten days after a mosquito infected with the virus bites a human, according to the CDC.
“Death usually occurs 2 to 10 days after onset of symptoms but can occur much later,” the agency says, adding that those who do survive the illness can be left with debilitating conditions such as minimal brain dysfunction, seizures, paralysis, and severe intellectual impairment.
Florida health officials encouraged residents to protect themselves by covering themselves with repellent and draining all items that can attract mosquitoes.
“The Department continues to conduct statewide surveillance for mosquito-borne illnesses, including West Nile virus infections, Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, malaria, chikungunya and dengue,” officials said. “Residents of Florida are encouraged to report dead birds via the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s site.”