The first human case of a potentially deadly mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEEV) was suspected in Canada last summer. This required extensive testing and the human EEEV infection was confirmed late this winter.
Mosquitoes get the virus when they feed on EEEV-infected birds. Humans and horses get infected when bitten by a mosquito infected with the virus.
Symptoms can include fever, chills, feeling tired or weak, muscle and joint pain. In the encephalitic form of the disease, people can experience fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. In extreme cases, infected individuals can lapse into a coma and die.
The person infected last summer was a resident of Ontario and has fully recovered but this spring’s cool, wet weather will eventually give way to warmer days and that means the return of mosquitoes. “More than just a summertime nuisance, infected mosquitoes can carry and spread a variety of diseases that can potentially make people ill,” says Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, Medical Officer of Health for the HKPR District Health Unit. “That’s why it’s important to do what you can to protect yourself from being bitten by mosquitoes.”
That’s why the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit is encouraging people to “Fight the Bite” and reduce their risk of illness by removing mosquito breeding areas on their property, and taking steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites when outside.
The Health unit says the best way to protect yourself from mosquito bites is to clean up and remove potential mosquito breeding areas around your property, get rid of standing water that mosquitoes need to lay their eggs including pool covers, flower pots, wheelbarrows, recycling boxes, garbage cans, old tires, and wading pools and fill in low depressions in your lawn. You should also cover rain barrels with a fine screen mesh. Change water in bird baths at least once a week, clean out dense bush and shrubbery where mosquitoes can rest, turn over your compost pile on a regular basis and ensure window and door screens fit tightly and do not have holes.
They also suggest you should cover up when outside and use federally-registered personal insect repellents on exposed skin, such as products containing DEET. Experts say it’s also a good idea to wear protective clothing outside such as long-sleeved shirts, jackets, long pants, hats and socks and choose light-coloured clothing as mosquitoes tend to be attracted to darker colours.
The West Nile virus (WNV) remains the most common mosquito-borne disease reported in the country, with 100 human cases reported in 2016. The Health Unit says human cases of EEEV are rare, and there have only been 85 cases recorded in the United States between 2004 and 2013. EEEV has been circulating in Ontario for several decades, with cases confirmed in horses for the past several years.
“The risk of being infected with West Nile virus is low but there is still a risk,” says Dr. Noseworthy. “With Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus, the risk of infection is even lower than that for WNV. Doing what you can to eliminate mosquito breeding areas around your home and being sure you wear insect repellent when outside can go a long way in reducing your risk from both viruses even more.”