One person has now died in Connecticut of the mosquito-borne illness Eastern equine encephalitis, and another case has been confirmed. Health officials say with EEE ‘likely to persist in the area,' Connecticut residents should focus on prevention.
The virus can cause brain damage in survivors, and there is currently no cure.
The Department of Public Health issued a statement Friday saying that the first person diagnosed with EEE this year in Connecticut passed away earlier this week. The patient, an adult from East Lyme, was hospitalized with encephalitis in late August. It's Connecticut's first fatal human EEE case since 2013.
Meanwhile, the second confirmed case is an adult from nearby Old Lyme who became ill during the second week of September, and remains hospitalized.
In addition to East Lyme and Old Lyme, other areas in eastern Connecticut have also seen trapped mosquitoes test positive for the virus.
“The communities of greatest concern include Stonington, North Stonington, Voluntown, and up in that region,” said Dr. Theodore Andreadis, the director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. “As a note of caution, we’re saying the entire eastern half of the state is probably under a moderately high risk and that will continue right straight through until the first hard frost.”
Dr. Matthew Cartter, the director of infectious diseases for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, added that the frost that people should look for is the kind that causes drivers to use an ice scraper to on their windshield.
“The days are shorter. The nights have been a lot colder,” Cartter said in regards to the advent of weather that could kill the mosquitoes. “But, this weekend is scheduled to be nice and warm in the daytime and still warm at night – down around 60 -- and that’s very conducive for mosquitoes to be active and biting, especially between dusk and dawn.”
Andreadis said that since 1938 when Eastern equine encephalitis was first found in humans, its impact has never been this widespread. He said that the disease is now reaching into northern New England for the first time.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has written a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. He said he did it because right now, prevention is the only cure.
“That’s why I am demanding that federal officials take that action and make sure that we are investing – devote the dollars to research and development vaccines, cures, treatment.”
Blumenthal estimated that a third of infected people will die from Eastern equine encephalitis. The disease has already killed two people this year.