WEST MONROE — Eastern equine encephalitis — a potentially deadly virus carried by mosquitoes — was recently discovered in Oswego County for the fist time this year.

The Oswego County Health Department said Tuesday the state Department of Health (DOH) informed county officials last week that the eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus was discovered in two mosquito pools collected from the Toad Harbor Swamp field station in the town of West Monroe.

“We are working closely with the state Department of Health to monitor mosquito activity around the county and will take actions as deemed appropriate based on consultations with state and regional partners,” Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said Tuesday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), EEE is a rare illness in humans with only a few cases reported in the U.S. each year, but the virus is “one of the most severe mosquito-transmitted diseases” in the nation. Approximately 33 percent of infected individuals die from the disease and most survivors experience significant brain damage, according to the CDC.

EEE is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. The CDC says most people infected with the virus have no apparent illness, but severe cases involving encephalitis — an inflammation of the brain — start with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. The illness can then progress into disorientation, seizures or coma.

There have been five human cases of EEE in New York state since 1971 — all in Oswego and Onondaga counties — with the most recent cases occurring in 2010 and 2011, according to DOH. Each of the five cases proved fatal.

In 2011, 4-year-old Maggie Wilcox tragically died from the disease, catapulting EEE into the public spotlight.

The Oswego County Health Department maintains and operates a countywide mosquito surveillance program headquartered inside the Three Mile Bay Wildlife Management Area in the town of West Monroe near the northern shore of Oneida Lake.

The county’s monitoring program starts in late May and ends in early September each year. 

EEE has been found in Oswego County each year since at least 2014, and officials last year noted once EEE is detected in one pool of collected mosquitoes, the virus typically spreads to other populations.

County health officials recommend Oswego County residents continue to use insect repellent while participating in outdoor activities and take proactive measures to reduce mosquito breeding sites around their homes.

According to the county, insect repellents that contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus are most effective, and noted repellents that contain permethrin are meant for clothing and gear and should not be applied directly to skin.  Individuals should read product labels and follow package instructions.

Individuals should also limit outdoor activities between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, and wear protective clothing, including long sleeves, pants, socks and shoes when weather permits.

In an effort to reduce mosquito habitats around the home, residents are advised to take the following steps: 

  • Repair or replace window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside and reduce or eliminate all standing water
  • Dispose of old tires, which can be significant mosquito breeding sites. Used tires are accepted at local transfer stations. For details, call the Oswego County Solid Waste Department at 315-591-9200
  • Empty or dispose of pails, cans, flower pots and similar water-holding containers
  • Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors
  • Clear roof gutters and be sure they drain properly
  • Turn over wheelbarrows and wading pools when not in use
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs and drain pool covers
  • Change the water in birdbaths and horse troughs at least twice weekly
  • Remove leaf debris from yards and gardens, and clean vegetation and debris from the edge of ponds
  • Use landscaping to eliminate standing water

For more information about protecting your family against mosquitoes, call the Oswego County Health Department at 315-349-3547 or visit the state DOH website at http://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2731/.

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