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Mosquitoes infected with EEE virus detected in Stonington

Mosquitoes trapped in Stonington last week tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis, health officials reported Tuesday.

They were the first EEE-positive mosquitoes found in the state this year, according to the New Haven-based Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. The virus was detected in a species of mosquito that primarily bites birds, Ledge Light Health District said.

EEE can have serious consequences for humans, who can contract it from infected mosquitoes. Though human cases are rare, about a third of them result in death. Most survivors suffer significant brain damage.

While four to eight cases in humans are reported in the U.S. in a typical year, during 2019 the number of confirmed human cases sharply increased to 38, with 19 of them occurring in New England.

The disease was found in 28 towns in Connecticut last year, with a total of 122 positive mosquito samples. Four human cases — all in eastern Connecticut — were confirmed, and three of the infected people died. Most of the virus activity occurred in Middlesex, New London and Windham counties, as has been the case most years.

Mosquitoes infected with the West Nile virus have been identified in seven Connecticut towns this year: Bridgeport, Darien, Greenwich, Guilford, Newington, Norwalk and Stamford.

West Nile virus is the most prevalent mosquito-borne disease in the U.S. and has been detected in Connecticut every year since 1999. The CAES detected the virus in 82 mosquito samples from 23 towns last year. The majority of West Nile virus activity was detected in densely populated urban and suburban regions in Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven counties.

Most people infected with the West Nile have no symptoms or experience mild illness, such as a fever and headache, before fully recovering. Some individuals, particularly those over 50, can experience serious illness, including encephalitis or meningitis.

“The detection of EEE virus in mosquitoes in early August and the continued spread of West Nile virus is cause for concern,” said Dr. Philip Armstrong, a CAES medical entomologist. “Virus activity can quickly escalate so we'll continue to closely monitor mosquitoes for further virus amplification and spread."

Residents should protect themselves from mosquito bites and mosquito-borne diseases, health officials say.

"Now is the time to take precautions against mosquito bites," said Dr. Jason White, director of CAES. "We encourage everyone to take simple measures such as wearing mosquito repellent and covering bare skin, especially during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active."

To reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes, residents should:

• Minimize time spent outdoors between dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

• Be sure door and window screens are tight-fitting and in good repair.

• Wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods of time, or when mosquitoes are more active. Clothing should be light-colored and made of tightly woven materials that keep mosquitoes away from the skin.

• Use mosquito netting when sleeping outdoors or in an unscreened structure and to protect small babies when outdoors.

• Consider the use of mosquito repellents recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as ones containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, IR3535 or 2-undecanone, and apply according to directions, when it is necessary to be outdoors.

To prevent mosquitoes around the home:

• Dispose of water-holding containers, such as ceramic pots, used tires and tire swings, and make sure gutters are not clogged.

• Drill holes in the bottom of containers such as those used for recycling.

• Change water in bird baths on a weekly basis.

• Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, and cover pools when not in use.

• Use landscaping to eliminate areas where water can collect on property.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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