Rare, deadly virus found in 3 Pennsylvania counties


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The state departments of Agriculture and Health are warning people to take precautions against mosquito bites for themselves and their animals, specifically horses, because the mosquito-transmitted virus eastern equine encephalitis has been confirmed in Erie, Carbon, and Monroe counties.

Two people in Massachusetts and one person in Connecticut have died after contracting EEE. So far, 10 people have been diagnosed with the disease in those two states.

EEE is a virus carried by birds. If a mosquito bites an infected bird, it can then transmit the potentially fatal virus to humans, horses, and other birds.

The cases that have been confirmed in Pennsylvania were in pheasants, horses, and a wild turkey.

Due to the high mortality rate in horses and humans, EEE is regarded as one of the most serious mosquito-borne diseases in the United States.

Through mid-September, there have been 18 cases reported to the CDC from across the country in 2019, with several cases being fatal.

The symptoms of EEE are:

  • High fever (103º to 106ºF),
  • Stiff neck,
  • Headache, and
  • Lack of energy.

These symptoms typically show up 3-10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Inflammation and swelling of the brain, called encephalitis, can develop. The disease gets worse quickly, and some patients could end up in a coma within a week. This disease can also be fatal, as three out of every 10 people who get the disease die from it.

The onset of symptoms in horses starts with a fever that may reach as high as 106 º F for 1-2 days. Additional symptoms can include:

  • Abnormal gait
  • Aimless wandering
  • Circling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drooping ears
  • Drowsiness
  • Head pressing
  • Hyperactivity
  • Inability to swallow 
  • Paralysis
  • Restlessness
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Death

Pennsylvanians are encouraged to take every precaution to protect against this rare, neurological disease and immediately contact their physician or veterinarian if symptoms are present.

For more information, visit health.pa.gov or agriculture.pa.gov.

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