The truth about the EEE virus

Never a good time. (Photo by Henri Bergius)

Knowing — you’ve heard it’s half the battle. (Photo by Henri Bergius)

By Andrew Nalewski

The world is full of triple-lettered acronyms. Some help you with your car, some are downright evil, and others – like this one – can cause crippling brain damage if contracted, though concern about EEE is not as great as one might think.

The Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus, also known as EEE, can be contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito and is typically found in equestrian animals. It was discovered in a horse residing in Westminster last week, causing the town to put in place several safety precautions and prompting surrounding towns to do the same on a marginally smaller scale.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website’s page on EEE lists it as “a rare illness in humans” and reports that there are only a few cases in the U.S. each year. Unfortunately, the CDC’s website page claims that the disease has “approximately 33 percent mortality and significant brain damage in most survivors.” The CDC reports that “there is no specific treatment for EEE.” Because the disease is spread by mosquitoes, precautions are being taken by the towns of Worcester County.

The EEE threat level in Westminster was raised to critical last Thursday, and the surrounding towns of Hubbardston, Ashburnham, Gardner, Princeton, Leominster, and Fitchburg have responded by raising their respective threat levels to high.

Westminster has put in place several steps to limit exposure to the virus, including the cancellation of the annual town bonfire on Halloween and the rescheduling of the town’s Trick or Treat to Nov. 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Russells, a couple living in the neighboring city of Gardner, were alerted of the virus by an automated phone call received on Oct. 17, which listed many steps to avoid the illness, and said that outdoor events in Gardner after 4 p.m. have been canceled. “We’re very aware of it,” said Mrs. Russell.

When asked if she was afraid for her health, Mrs. Russell was quite calm in her response, saying that she and her husband don’t go outdoors much at night, but still expressed a bit of concern.

On the other end of the spectrum, James Daley, a 20-year-old resident of Westminster, said he was not concerned about the virus. “I’m always outside at night, and ever since the warning was released I haven’t seen a mosquito,” said Daley. “Honestly, I’m not concerned about it at all.” Daley cited the recent cold weather to back up his reasoning. “It seems that it’s too late in the year for it to really be an issue.”

Daley’s thoughts were echoed by another Westminster resident and student who attends Mount Wachusett Community College, Mike Berube. Berube didn’t even know the virus was present in Westminster when first contacted.
He said he knows “almost nothing” about the virus. Nevertheless, Berube is not worried about contracting the disease and does not fear for his health, he said much the same thing as Daley: “I can limit my time outside to avoid mosquitos. I feel I am at low risk just by doing this.”

Only after two nights of 28-degree weather, or, two consecutive hard frosts, will the threat level be lowered.

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