Florida Health Officials Detect the Spread of a Deadly Mosquito Virus

Mosquitoes in Florida are spreading a rare disease across the State, worrying locals.
Fabienne Lang

A dangerous and mosquito-borne virus has hit Florida, worrying health officials and prompting the Florida Department of Health in Orange County to send out a public advisory to the Southeastern U.S. state.

The disease, known as the Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) is capable of causing severe brain damage and can kill up to 30 percent of those who contract it. 

On the slightly positive side, it's still extremely rare with around seven people diagnosed with EEEV in the States each year. Last year, six people contracted the disease.


EEEV, mosquitoes, and chickens

Spread by a number of different types of mosquitoes, which includes most warm and humid states in the U.S., including Florida, the virus has a number of possible side effects. 

Florida Health Officials Detect the Spread of a Deadly Mosquito Virus
Under a magnification of 83,900X, this digitally-colorized transmission electron microscopic (TEM) image depicts a salivary gland tissue section that had been extracted from a mosquito, which was infected by the Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus. The viral particles have been colorized red. Source: Fred Murphy and Sylvia Whitfield/CDC Public Health Library

Most people who are infected by EEEV experience flu-like symptoms, or have no side effects. 

Others, around five percent, go on to have serious brain swelling, which can cause headaches, drowsiness, convulsions, comas, and death can occur as quickly as two days after being infected. 

For those of the five percent who do survive the brain swelling, they typically endure lifelong neurological impairment

The little positive factor here is that EEEV is extremely rare and scarcely comes into contact with humans. 

The virus mostly stays among the vector species (the insect that spreads the disease -- in this case, mosquitoes), as they reside in mostly uninhabited swampy areas. 

Florida Health Officials Detect the Spread of a Deadly Mosquito Virus
This illustration depicts a dorsal view of a Culiseta melanura mosquito, revealing characteristics that include a long, curved proboscis, a dark-scaled abdomen, and slightly enlarged, dark scales on the outer wing. This mosquito is a vector of the eastern equine encephalitis virus in bird populations. Source: CDC Public Health Library

That said, animals such as horses and chickens can catch it too, but luckily for the chickens, they don't suffer any of the symptoms us humans do.

Chickens gave the signal for EEEV

One way the nation has been monitoring the virus through chickens is by placing chicken coops in areas where EEEV has a high chance of spreading and testing their blood regularly. These are called sentinel birds

This is how the news of the virus was picked up this time around. 

"Several sentinel chickens in the same flock have tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) infection," said the advisory. "The risk of transmission to humans has increased."

The advisory warns those who are out and about to use good doses of mosquito repellent, wear long sleeves and cover up most exposed skin.

Moreover, ensuring to clear up stagnant water pools is a high priority as well - anything as small as a water-filled bottle cap laying stagnant for a week is a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes. 

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