Mosquito-borne illnesses: What you need to know


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — This year, the risk for mosquito-borne illnesses is at an all-time high in southeastern New England.

After a Massachusetts woman died from the mosquito-borne illness Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Eyewitness News sat down with the Rhode Island Department of Health to discuss what residents should do to protect themselves from illness and how to prevent mosquito bites.

Below is a Q&A with Rhode Island Department of Health Spokesperson Joseph Wendelken:

If I haven’t been told there is EEE in my community, should I assume that it’s not there?

Wendelken: We have had positive samples from EEE in two samples in Rhode Island, however, there are measures that everyone throughout the state should take to prevent mosquito bites. Prevention is the way to keep yourself and your family safe.

FACT SHEET: What you need to know about Mosquito-Borne Diseases »

Should you just assume it’s in your town?

Wendelken: Exactly, there are preventative steps everyone should be taking.

Should I use bug repellant with DEET?

Wendelken: We do recommend people use products with at least 20% deet, which is a chemical repellant that will help ward off mosquitos.

What is EEE?

Wendelken: It is a virus that people can get when they are bitten by mosquitos that have been affected with EEE. So, there are two different kinds. One if a more serious kind that involves a swelling of the brain and that’s quite serious. And the other kind of EEE, that doesn’t involve the swelling of the brain is a little less serious. And it’s symptoms like chills, fever, malaise but those are still things you want to talk to a healthcare provider about as well. It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you are having any of those symptoms.

You talked about bug repellant but there are also things you can do to protect yourself, right?

Wendelken: One thing is if people have screens on their window, which is a good idea especially if they have those windows open, make sure that there are no holes and rips. We also know mosquitoes are very active in the early morning and also at dusk so if you will be outside at those times, it’s a good idea to wear long sleeves and pants to protect yourself. Something else that people can do around their homes is taking steps to stop the breeding of mosquitoes. In one cup of water, thousands of mosquitoes can breed. So it’s really important that if people have water pooling around their homes in a tire of the lid of a garbage pail after it rains, for example, people want to go outside and make sure those are cleared out. And we talked a little bit about deet, and just to clarify that it is important but for infants and children it’s not very good to use.

EEE, is not uncommon to get these positive test results but humans being infected is a little bit more rare?

We fortunately haven’t had any human cases of EEE in about 10 years, but Massachusetts had a case, sadly that resulted in a fatality so this is a serious health issue and it’s important that people take those mosquito prevention measures to take themselves and their family members healthy.

When will this mosquito threat go away?

It’s typically until the hard frost of the season, so around mid-October is the point we stop seeing mosquitoes circulating in the state.

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