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Doc: While EEE can be deadly, most cases go undetected

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — If eastern equine encephalitis — or EEE — has been weighing heavy on your mind in light of recent cases, a local doctor has what may be a surprising reminder.

It’s possible to have contracted the virus, but not exhibit symptoms. In fact, Dr. Oliver Gherardi said most people exposed to EEE don’t even know it.

“Most patients who actually contract EEE don’t have any symptoms,” said Gherardi, the medical director of Lifespan Urgent Care on Airport Road in Warwick, adding that your body’s immune system might fight it off like any other virus.

There has been heightened awareness – and fear – about EEE this summer. Rhode Island has had three people contract the potentially dangerous disease, with one of those people dying from it.

It’s enough to put some people on alert. Could the slightest symptom be a death sentence? In fact, when do we really need to seek medical help?

Symptoms will show up, Dr. Gherardi said, four to 10 days after you get a mosquito bite. “It’s a more severe headache, which is accompanied by a fever, some nausea, vomiting, lethargy, decrease in appetite.”

It can mimic a migraine headache, with one telling distinction: “The migraine is not gonna have a fever with it,” Dr. Gherardi pointed out.

Fact Sheet: Mosquito-Borne Illnesses » | Special Presentation: EEE Concerns »

“It’s unusual for humans to contract EEE, but even if they do, it’s even rarer to develop symptoms. And on top of that, it’s even rarer to get more serious symptoms,” Dr. Gherardi said.

The doctor says it’s been an abnormal year for mosquito illnesses. The data supports that: Nationwide in 2019, there’ve been at least 21 human cases — more than double the CDC’s average of 7 cases a year – three of those in Rhode Island and nine of them in Massachusetts.

“I don’t know if we know exactly why this is happening. It’s just something that happens cyclically over the years,” said Dr. Gherardi.

Still, prevention is key, and precautions like using bug repellant are still necessary, he said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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