An individual from the Town of Salina, just outside of Syracuse, NY has contracted the mosquito borne viral disease, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), the Onondaga County Health Department announced this week.

Central New York
Onondaga County, New York/David Benbennick

According to Onondaga County Health Commissioner, Indu Gupta, MD, MPH, “The individual is currently hospitalized and is in critical condition.  To protect the privacy of this patient and of the family, additional details are not being shared with the public.”

This is New York State’s first case of EEE in 2015. Although mosquitoes carrying the EEE virus can be found across the state, the highest risk areas for EEE are in the Central New York counties of Onondaga, Oneida, Madison, and Oswego, state health officials said.

“The presence of this disease in even one New Yorker is one too many and alerts us to the threat of EEE,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “It’s imperative that everyone take precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”

EEE infection is a rare but serious viral infection that is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The virus can cause encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. Initial symptoms, which usually start 4-10 days after the bite, can include fever, headache, and vomiting. Illness can then progress to altered mental status, confusion, seizures, coma, and even death. The greatest risk for infection with this virus is for people, especially the very young and elderly, who spend a lot of time outdoors.

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There is no commercially available human vaccine against EEE, so the best way to protect yourself is to keep mosquitoes from biting you. One of the best ways to do this is to take steps to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home or property, including eliminating standing water in yards, by:

  • Disposing of used tires, tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar containers in which water collects.
  • Drilling holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.
  • Making sure roof gutters drain properly; cleaning clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
  • Turning over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use and changing the water in bird baths twice a week.
  • Cleaning vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds.
  • Cleaning and chlorinating swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs, and draining water from pool covers.

Repellents also provide protection against mosquito bites. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend choosing a repellent that contains DEET, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus for use on skin. Clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents, can be treated with products containing permethrin (permethrin should not be used on skin). Treated clothing or gear remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is also available and remains protective for up to 70 washings. For all repellents, follow the label directions and apply in small amounts, avoiding contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. Use only small amounts when applying repellents on children.

EEE has been detected in eight mosquito pool samples in New York State tested to date this year. In 2014, 87 mosquito pools tested positive statewide, with two reported human cases. No deaths occurred in 2014, however there have been three confirmed deaths from the disease in New York over the past five years.