United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requesting an update on the agency’s efforts to prevent and control the spread of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). The senators’ letter comes after Massachusetts officials confirmed the first in-state human case of the season last week.
EEE, a rare virus that causes swelling in the brain, is one of the most deadly mosquito-borne diseases in the United States. Nearly one-third of individuals infected with EEE die, and those who recover often live with severe and devastating neurological complications. In 2019, Massachusetts experienced the worst outbreak of EEE in over 50 years with 12 confirmed cases and 3 deaths. Early data suggests that the state may once again face a record number of cases across an even broader geographic area.
In the CDC’s response to a January 2020 letter that the senators sent about the threat to EEE, the agency emphasized that “state and local health departments and vector control organizations are the nation’s main defense against this increasing threat.” However, state and local governments have been uniquely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Local budgets are strained to meet significant health needs of their populations, making it even more difficult to address pre-existing public health problems like vector-borne illnesses, including through preventative measures like mosquito control.
“Decades of chronic underfunding have left many public health departments with few choices but to redirect resources from these efforts to confront COVID-19,” the senators wrote. “Already, some staffers who typically set mosquito traps have been redeployed to COVID-19 call centers. Elsewhere, state labs are too overwhelmed with COVID-19 tests to test mosquito samples for deadly illnesses. As state and local governments face additional revenue shortfalls, mosquito control efforts could see further cuts, too.”
To address their concerns, the senators asked the CDC to answer a series of questions about how the agency is supporting state and local health prevention efforts to combat the threat of EEE and how the COVID-19 public health emergency has affected these efforts.
“We urge the CDC to continue to find every opportunity to support state and local governments and other agencies to address the threat of EEE and other vector-borne viruses,” the senators wrote.
In January, Senators Warren and Markey requested an update from the CDC on the agency’s efforts to study the epidemiology of EEE and prepare for the upcoming mosquito season. Senators Warren and Markey sent a letter to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in September 2019 requesting an update on the agency’s research activity on EEE.
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