Since early August, it seems like every week, another local town is upping its West Nile virus and EEE threat level.
“Certainly it’s bigger this year than the last few years, but when West Nile first started in this country — which was over 10 years ago — the initial couple of years there were a lot of cases,” says Dr. Daniel Skiest, chief of infectious disease at Baystate Medical.
Eighteen state and local residents have contracted West Nile virus or EEE in recent weeks. But, Dr. Skiest says it’s rare you will too.
Still, it’s important to know what warning signs to look for.
“Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus are both viruses that happen to be carried by mosquito,” says Skiest. “Different viruses, but somewhat relate.”
One big difference is occurrence. People actually get EEE a lot less often. But if you do get it, it can be much more dangerous.
“EEE or Eastern Equine Encephalitis is a virus that can infect the brain primarily and cause swelling of the brain, and it can occur again after a mosquito bite, it usually occurs with fever, headache and confusion,” says Skiest. “It can be pretty serious, there have been a few deaths from it this year.”
The CDC estimates that roughly a third of all people who contract EEE will die from it. But again, it’s rare.
This year, Massachusetts is reporting four confirmed cases of EEE — only one person has died from the virus.
Meanwhile, the state has confirmed 14 human cases of West Nile — including a new case in Hampden County. But because so many people who contract the virus never exhibit symptoms, that number is likely much higher.
“The good news is most people who actually get bitten by a mosquito that carried West Nile have no symptoms,” says Skiest. “The vast majority of those people don’t have any symptoms. And then, those who have symptoms, most of those people just have a mild, flu-like illness with a fever.”