A rare mosquito-borne virus is spiking this year, resulting in five deaths already.
Health officials said 21 people have been diagnosed with eastern equine encephalitis, about three times the normal average, according to ABC News. On an average year, seven people contract the disease and three people die from it, the report said.
Michigan, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and North Carolina have all reported cases.
“This is an extremely unusual year,” said Al Gettman, head of Rhode Island’s mosquito control program.
Massachusetts this week record its ninth EEE case, according to Boston.com.
As of Wednesday, 35 communities in the state are at critical risk for the disease. Forty communities are at high risk and 128 are listed at moderate risk, according to the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services.
“Michigan is currently experiencing its worst Eastern Equine Encephalitis outbreak in more than a decade,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, said in a statement on the department’s website.
“The ongoing cases reported in humans and animals and the severity of this disease illustrate the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites,” he said.
Health officials in Michigan said the disease is focused in Barry, Berrien, Cass, Genesee, Kalamazoo, Lapeer, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties. They are urging those to postpone or cancel outside activities that would take place around dusk — a time when mosquitoes are the most active.
“We strongly encourage residents to take precautions such as using insect repellent with DEET, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors during the peak mosquito-biting hours which are dusk and dawn,” James Rutherford, health officer of the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department, said in a statement on the department’s website.
The EEE “season” can last until there is a hard frost and mosquitoes that carry the disease die off.
Dr. Mark Fischer, an expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told ABC News there is no obvious reason for the spike in cases this year.
However Catherine Brown, who tracks diseases for Massachusetts, said she thinks a new strain of the virus has hit Massachusetts.
The virus is spread through mosquitoes that feed on infected birds. When humans are infected, they can develop an infection of the brain or spinal cord.
EEE can also affect horses. There is a vaccine for them, but not for humans.
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