NCDHHS urges caution as eastern equine encephalitis cases identified in Cape Fear region

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Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 3:10 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is urges residents to take precautions as several cases of eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) have been identified in the Cape Fear region.

Recently, horses in three counties — Brunswick, Pender, and Onslow — and a mosquito sample in New Hanover County have tested positive for the EEE virus. No human cases have been identified in North Carolina, so far, health officials say.

EEE is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. It can cause serious illness in people as well as horses, donkeys, emus and ostriches. Although uncommon in people, EEE is one of the most severe mosquito-transmitted diseases in both horses and humans in the United States.

Approximately a third of people who become ill with EEE die. Many people who survive EEE suffer from long term brain damage. Those under age 15 and over age 50 are at greatest risk of developing severe disease. From 2003 to 2020, 12 human cases of EEE were reported in North Carolina, with infections occurring from July through December.

In North Carolina, EEE virus is most commonly detected in the eastern part of the state, where the virus is normally passed between wild birds and mosquitoes. The mosquito species that is the main carrier of EEE spends most of its time in freshwater swamps and almost exclusively bites birds rather than horses and humans.

Autumn is also the time of year when most cases of other mosquito borne viral illnesses are reported, such as West Nile virus and La Crosse virus infections. To prevent mosquito-borne illness, NCDHHS’ Division of Public Health encourages people to practice the “3 Ds”:

  • Dress – Wear loose, light-colored clothing that covers your skin.
  • Defend – When the potential exists for exposure to mosquitoes, repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) are recommended. Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are other repellent options. Learn more about insect repellent options.
  • Drainage – Check around your home to rid of standing water, which is where mosquitoes can lay their eggs.

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