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August 15, 2011

Oswego County Urges Residents to Protect Themselves from Eastern Equine Encephalitis

The Oswego County Health Department has confirmed that an Oswego County child who was ill with Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) has died.

"The loss of a child is a tragedy that no family should have to endure," said Dr. Dennis Norfleet, public health director. "Our heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies go out to the child's family. We understand that people are concerned about their own families and children. Although EEE very rarely affects humans, it is important that people take precautions to prevent mosquito bites."

This tragedy has raised questions about conducting aerial spraying to control mosquito populations. Oswego County has been working closely with the New York State Health Department and the consensus is that aerial spraying would not eliminate EEE in the county. The county will continue to collect data, monitor conditions and evaluate all factors to formulate future decisions.

Dr. Norfleet said, "One of the factors that led to that decision includes the lower mosquito infection rate this year. Another consideration is that spraying will only eliminate a portion of the mosquito population for a limited time and not completely eradicate the problem. Spraying is more effective when used in a concentrated area where EEE has been detected and helps to prevent the spread of the virus. However, this year, EEE was detected within the same week in many towns around the county."

Dr. Norfleet added, "Although mosquito numbers are down, the extreme heat wave throughout central New York in July likely helped the EEE virus amplify more quickly than in other recent years. This is likely why it was detected at a site beyond the Toad Harbor Swamp as well as in the swamp during the same week in Oswego County."

The Oswego County Health Department has taken an active role in the monitoring of mosquito populations for the last 40 years. Through the mosquito surveillance program, collections are taken from ten various locations throughout the county and sent to Wadsworth Center Laboratories near Albany for testing. Collection locations may change from year to year, depending on the results from previous years. Aerial spraying is conducted as a control measure when conditions exist that show spraying would be an effective action.

Encephalitis caused by EEE is a rare but serious viral disease spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Its symptoms include headache, high fever, chills and vomiting; however, it is possible that some people who become infected with EEE may be asymptomatic and recover without incident. Not everyone who is bitten by an infected mosquito will contract the disease.

Dr. Norfleet cautions residents to be vigilant about using personal protection measures to prevent mosquito bites. He said, "It is important to recognize that not all mosquito species carry the disease. Only a few of the 60 different species are capable of transmitting the virus; however, because you don't know which ones do, it is important to take proper precautions. The most effective actions people can take are to stay away from areas where mosquitoes concentrate and to limit outside activity between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active."

Other precautions include:

  • Wear shoes, socks, long pants with bottoms tucked into boots or socks, and a long sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods of time and at dawn and dusk.
  • Use mosquito repellent over clothes. Repellants containing DEET are the most effective, but should be used with caution and according to label instructions.
  • Repair or replace broken screens in doors and windows.

For more information about EEE and other viruses transmitted by mosquitoes, call the Oswego County Health Department at 315-349-3564 or 1-800-596-3200, ext.3564 between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. or visit the New York State Department of Health Web site at www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/eastern_equine_encephalitis/fact_sheet.htm or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/EasternEquineEncephalitis/.


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