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August 27, 2003   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
August 27, 2003

Specialists with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System say it is crucial that citizens protect both themselves and their horses from Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). Alabama public health officials have confirmed a fatal case of EEE in a young Escambia County resident.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus has been identified in 21 counties, primarily in the southern part of the state," Xing Ping Hu, an Extension entomologist, said. "People need to take personal precautionary measures to avoid exposure to mosquitoes."

She said avoiding mosquito bites and eliminating mosquito breeding sites will help protect individuals from EEE, West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne viruses that occur in Alabama.

"These mosquito-borne viruses are not spread person-to-person, horse-to-person or horse-to-horse," said Hu. "Birds are the source of infection for mosquitoes. You get the disease by being bitten by an infected mosquito."

"All Alabamians should assume that mosquitoes infected with mosquito-borne virus are in their communities, and we anticipate additional cases," said Dr. Donald Williams, state health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health. "The risk of disease from mosquito bites will probably increase and only subside when a freeze in late fall kills the mosquitoes."

Symptoms usually appear four to 10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. Symptoms of encephalitis may include fever, headache, confusion, disorientation, stupor, tremors and convulsions. The virus may cause paralysis, coma and death. The seriousness of the illness may depend on a person's health and age.

EEE is most severe in both the young and the elderly. EEE in humans can have a mortality rate as high as 30 percent, considerably higher than that seen with West Nile virus. There is no human vaccine for EEE.

This is only the second confirmed human EEE case in Alabama since 1964, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC reported less than 200 confirmed EEE cases nationwide in the last 39 years.

Hu said to lower the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes, people should remember the five D's of prevention: dusk, dawn, dress, DEET and drain.

* Avoid being outside during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. * Dress to cover your skin with protective clothing. * Protect bare skin with mosquito repellent that contains DEET. * Drain empty containers holding stagnant water in which mosquitoes breed.

Cindy McCall, an Extension animal scientist, said there is little reason for a horse to contract EEE because there is a safe and inexpensive vaccine available.

"Horse owners in Alabama should vaccinate their horses twice a year for EEE or sleeping sickness," said McCall. "Owners should get EEE boosters now for their horses and again in six months."

"EEE is far worse than West Nile in horses," she said. "The mortality rate of horses infected with EEE is over 90 percent, and from what we know about West Nile, the mortality of infected horses is about 30 to 40 percent."

EEE is characterized by the progressive failure of the horse's central nervous system.

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