What you need to know about the deadly mosquito-borne illness Eastern equine encephalitis

A rare, potentially deadly mosquito-transmitted illness called Eastern equine encephalitis has been reported in at least three states.

There have been four recorded cases in Massachusetts, including one case in which the person died, while there have been three suspected cases in Michigan.

Cases involving animals have been reported in Florida.

In an interview with ABC News, Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of Infectious Diseases and vice chair Department of Medicine at South Shore Health in Massachusetts, explained that EEE “is the most deadly of all the mosquito-born viral brain infections, aka encephalitides.” However, EEE remains very rare and most people who get it never develop symptoms.

What is the EEE?

The Eastern equine encephalitis virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, and can affect humans, horses and birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The virus and its associated illnesses have been tracked for the past 40 years. Serious cases of EEE that send patients to the doctor typically occur in states with warm, marshy conditions, including the Atlantic seaboard and Gulf Coast states.

What are the symptoms?

Infection with the EEE virus can lead to two different types of symptoms. More commonly, infection with the EEE virus will cause a flu-like illness, including chills, fatigue, and joint and muscle pains. These symptoms can last one to two weeks, with expected complete recovery without neurologic involvement. Approximately 5% of those infected with the EEE virus will go on to develop a serious group of symptoms called Eastern equine encephalitis. Encephalitis means inflammation of the brain and can present with fever, headache, drowsiness, vomiting, and coma. Of the 5% who develop serious symptoms, “one-third of people die from this and a substantial number of the survivors have permanent neurologic damage,” according to Ellerin.

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