Rhode Island sees first EEE death since 2007, officials say

Officials with the Rhode Island Department of Health on Monday announced a person in the state died from the mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus.

The patient, who was not identified, was in their 50s and lived in West Warwick. He or she passed away on Sunday, health officials said in a news release.

The person’s death comes after the Rhode Island Department of Health in August announced the case marked the first in the state since 2010. At that time, the patient was said to be in critical condition.

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The EEE-related death marks the first in the state since 2007, officials said.

EEE, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a rare disease spread by infected mosquitoes. EEE “is one of a group of mosquito-transmitted viruses that can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis),” the federal health agency says.

EEE is more common in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, though the CDC said some cases have been reported in the Great Lakes area. It’s rare — only five to 10 cases are reported each year in the U.S.

“Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no effective antiviral drugs have been discovered.”

— CDC

Symptoms of EEE typically appear four to 10 days after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. Severe cases of the virus “begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting,” said the CDC, which noted, “the illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, and coma.”

One-third of those infected with EEE virus die, while survivors typically have “mild to severe brain damage.”

There’s no specific treatment for the infection.

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“Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no effective antiviral drugs have been discovered,” the CDC said. “Severe illnesses are treated by supportive therapy, which may include hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids, and prevention of other infections.”

The best way to prevent EEE virus and other mosquito-borne ailments is by draining standing water — like in birdbaths, buckets or on pool covers — as stagnant water can serve as a breeding ground for these insects. Other preventive measures include covering skin with long-sleeved pants and shirts while outside and properly using insect repellent containing DEET.

The death in Rhode Island comes after health officials in Massachusetts announced two additional cases of the virus, one in a woman in her 60s and the other in a 5-year-old girl.