Public health officials are warning Connecticut residents that they should take extra precautions to avoid the risk of contracting the eastern equine encephalitis virus from a mosquito bite.
The state Department of Public Health issued an advisory Wednesday urging people to limit their time outside between sunset and sunrise while the virus, also known as EEE, continues to pose a threat in the Northeast region of the country.
“We’re all seeing the same thing,” said Dr. Matthew Cartter, state epidemiologist. “And we see this every six, seven, eight years. Nobody really knows why it happens some years and not in others, but it is a very serious infection.”
The EEE virus is usually found in certain mosquitoes in white cedar and red maple swamps, which exist in many parts of the Northeast, including eastern Connecticut.
Mosquitoes have tested positive for the virus in Chester, Haddam, Hampton, Groton, Killingworth, Ledyard, Madison, North Stonington, Plainfield, Shelton, Stonington and Voluntown.
The virus has also been detected in a flock of wild pheasants and in horses in Colchester and Columbia, according to DPH.
There has not been any human cases of EEE in Connecticut so far this year — the first ever human case in the state was back in 2013, and it was fatal. But there are human cases in nearby states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey.
Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck and reduced consciousness. Cartter said people of any age and health status can become ill if infected.
“About half of the survivors have permanent neurologic damage,” he said.
Public health officials said people should avoid camping near these swamp areas, or really doing outdoor overnight activities at all. The greatest risk for infection from mosquito bites is from dusk to dawn. Some towns have already moved after-school events and activities to earlier in the day.
Wearing long clothing and insect repellant can also help, Cartter said. Homeowners may want to remove standing water, where mosquitoes can breed.
The good news, Cartter said, is that it’s already September and getting colder outside.
“Cooler weather makes them (mosquitoes) less active, and if they’re less active, people will be less likely to be bitten by a mosquito,” he said.
The infected mosquitoes are a risk until the first heavy frost of the year, which will kill most of the insects and the viruses they carry.
Public health officials said anyone who thinks they might be infected with EEE should seek medical attention immediately.