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Wisconsin barely escapes mosquito-borne illness

Posted at 9:38 AM, Oct 23, 2019

The end to mosquito season came just in time for Wisconsin, as a deadly mosquito-borne illness was knocking on our door.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis spiked in the U.S. this year, with the CDC confirming 34 human cases and 12 deaths. Ten confirmed cases in neighboring Michigan got the attention of local health officials who will be keeping a close eye on the spread of the disease in summer of 2020.

“Michigan, our next door neighbor, there was a huge uptick in cases this past summer, so that is a real threat to our own State of Wisconsin,” warned Dr. Joyce Sanchez of Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.

EEE, or “Triple E” as it is commonly called, is spread from birds to mosquitoes, and from infected mosquitoes to humans.

Because the severity of mosquito seasons can be difficult to foresee, it can be impossible to know if Triple E will be a problem in Wisconsin next summer.

“We can't predict when an uptick is going to occur,” Dr. Sanchez said. “We don't have a full explanation. We believe that the proper environmental conditions are a huge contributor.”

Triple E can initially induce flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever and fatigue. When it advances beyond that and begins to attack the human nervous system, it becomes particularly deadly.

“The harsh reality is those who develop neurologic symptoms are very likely to die,” Dr. Sanchez said. “30% of those individuals with neurologic symptoms go on to die. That's a one in three chance of making it through that illness. Of those who survive that illness, they are highly like to have neurologic sequelae, or long term neurologic consequences of this devastating illness.”

The good new is, most people exposed to Triple E will never suffer these types of complications.

“The vast majority of people who have exposure to the virus never develop any symptoms,” said. Dr. Sanchez. “They're walking around, they have no idea they've been infected with the virus and then they clear the virus with their own immune system.”

Given that, doctors urge caution, not alarm, as we approach next summer. They recommend taking proactive steps to avoid mosquitoes like wearing repellent when outdoors and spraying for mosquitoes if it’s a particularly bad summer. More information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.