EEE virus found in WI horses, can infect humans through mosquitoes

APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEE), also called Triple E, has had an uptick this year. The CDC reports more than 20 cases, with multiple deaths across the U.S. including three people in Michigan, one in Rhode Island and one in Massachusetts.

“This is a virus that infects horses, and it can be picked up by mosquitoes and then transmitted to humans,” said ThedaCare Clinically Integrated Network Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Frank.

Triple E can be dangerous. The CDC says it’s fatal in a third of all human cases.

“It causes swelling an inflammation of the brain,” said Dr. Frank. “It causes fever, aches, and those types of symptoms but also, because it affects the brain, it can affect how people think and it can even put them in a coma.”

Frank says it can't be treated with an antibiotic, but Wisconsinites shouldn't be concerned since the virus has only presented in some horses in Barron, Waushara and Green Lake counties.

"That's a small number of horses, a small number of infected mosquitoes, so the chances of anyone getting that would be quite low,” said Frank. “[EEE is] very rare. There are some years there's a little bit of a spike, but even a spike is only a couple of dozen cases across the entire United States. So for example, I looked at the data for Wisconsin and over the last decade there’s been two cases.”

But Frank does argue people should always use caution with mosquitoes.

“Mosquitoes transmit many different types of illnesses," said Frank. "This would be one, it’s a very rare one, but they also transmit things like the Zika virus, West Nile virus.”

Right now, the mosquito population is fairly high because of the rainy weather in the area.

"They have to have that water and then you couple that with warm temperatures that's just perfect breeding grounds,” said Shane McCoy.

McCoy works as a Quality and Technical Trainer for Wil-Kil Pest Control. He says the best way to prevent mosquito bites is to get rid of anything that can hold standing water. Things like potted plants, kid’s pools, and so on.

"Let's eliminate any type of standing water outside the home. That's the first thing we should focus on as a prevention,” said McCoy.

Aside from that, wearing long sleeves, using insect repellent with DEET, and limiting time outside are the best ways to avoid getting bitten.

But don't lose sleep over Triple E.

"[Take] general precautions, but of all the things to worry about I would put this one very low on the list,” said Frank.