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Should You Worry About Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE)?

White Plains Hospital

October 16, 2019

Should You Worry About Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE)?

An infectious disease expert weighs in on the Triple E mosquito risk in New York.

If you’ve spent any time in New England lately, you may have seen the signs along the Mass Pike or I-84: “Protect from EEE” … “Avoid Outdoors from Dusk to Dawn.” The signs are referring to Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) or “Triple E,” a virus spread by anthropods such as mosquitoes to humans as well as horses – where it was first identified. West Nile is another example of this type of “arbovirus.”

These roadside warnings, along with recent news reports – like the two little girls in Massachusetts and Rhode Island who became extremely ill from EEE – may make you wonder if you should run for the house and call it a day after 6 p.m. According to Dr. Sean Cloonan, an infectious disease expert with White Plains Hospital, the risk of getting infected at this point in the season is low.

“New Yorkers are probably out of woods on this one,” notes Dr. Cloonan. “There are many viruses like EEE, and most people are at low risk of getting rare diseases at any given time.” EEE is more common in the Northeast and can be severe in the five percent of infected people in which the virus passes through the lining of the brain, causing the swelling and inflammation of encephalitis. (EEE is fatal in a third of those five percent.)

There have been only 28 total cases reported across the country, with only a few of them in New Jersey and Connecticut and none in New York. The highest risk period is August and September, and the cold weather means a rapid decline in mosquito activity, which is all but killed off completely after the first hard frost.

While there’s no need to go to extreme measures, a risk is still a risk. Anyone who lives in the Northeast should always take steps to protect against EEE and other mosquito-borne illnesses, including those who have the highest risk of becoming severely ill. According to Dr. Cloonan, those include:

  • Children under 15
  • Adults over 50
  • Those with compromised immune systems (from chemotherapy, recent organ transplants, diabetes, autoimmune disease etc…)

When you need to be outside, Dr. Cloonan suggests following best practices for keeping mosquitoes away:

Avoid the outdoors between dusk and dawn – this is prime mosquito feeding time

  • Wear bug repellant with DEET. This is the most effective mosquito and tick repellent out there
  • Decrease the amount of standing water around your home, including old planters and pots, which attract mosquitoes
Dr. Sean Cloonan

Dr. Sean Cloonan is an Infectious Disease physician practicing in the Harrison location. For information or to make an appointment, call (914) 723-8100.