2020 has brought the novel coronavirus, murder hornets, locusts, and a giant “Godzilla” Saharan dust cloud. As if that weren’t enough to contend with, there’s another potential threat that should be on your radar this summer. It’s called Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, and known as the deadliest mosquito-borne illness in the United States.
“This virus first becomes widespread between one particular mosquito species, Culiseta melanura, that transmits the pathogen between birds in wooded swamplands,” says Brittany Campbell, entomologist for the National Pest Management Association. “Then, different mosquito species that feed on humans pick up the pathogen from infected birds and spread it to humans.”
C. melanura exists predominantly along the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, and the East Coast, so folks in those areas have the most risk of infection, Campbell explains.
“When you have the right conditions, such as large mosquito populations, swampland, and bird reservoirs of pathogen, then there is potential for disease outbreak,” Campbell says.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control received reports of 38 confirmed cases of EEE, including 15 deaths. Approximately 30% of people with EEE die and many survivors have ongoing neurological problems, according to the CDC.
There is no vaccine for EEE, so preventing mosquito bites is key. To protect yourself this summer from this rare but deadly disease, experts recommend the following tips.
The novel coronavirus is already keeping many of us indoors, but now you have another reason to stay at home. Mosquitoes that transmit the virus are active at dawn and dusk.
“Some evidence suggests those time frames may be expanding due to it getting warmer earlier and staying warmer longer in areas where EEE has been found,” says David Brown, technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association.
Mosquitoes can slip into your home through windows and doors, but mesh screens will keep them out. Install them on any window or door you like to keep open.
“Check window and door screens for any tears or holes, and have them repaired to prevent mosquitoes from getting inside the home,” says Campbell.
Experts also recommend using air conditioning, if possible. And if you have outdoor eating areas, be sure to use nets and/or fans.
Get rid of still water
In summer, people use more water outdoors on things like kiddie pools and slip-and-slides. But keep in mind that mosquitoes need water to breed, so don’t let pools of water sit in your yard for an extended period of time.
“Believe it or not, mosquitoes only need half an inch of stagnant water to lay eggs, which is about the size of a bottle cap,” says Campbell.
“Make sure there isn’t any standing water in flowerpots, buckets, pet dishes, trash cans, and other backyard water sources,” says Peter Bonkrude, president of the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California.
Don’t forget to tightly cover water storage containers like rain barrels, too.
Use a mosquito repellent
The best way to prevent EEE is not to get bitten, right? Experts say a good way to prevent mosquito bites is to use mosquito repellent with an EPA-registered ingredient in the daytime and at night.
“To protect against mosquito bites, it’s important to properly apply insect repellent containing at least 20% DEET [the most common active ingredient in bug repellent], picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus when spending time outdoors,” says Campbell.
It may feel like shorts and T-shirt weather, but going out in high-risk areas with minimal skin coverage is probably not a good idea. Wear long sleeves and pants when hiking or walking in wooded or shrub areas.
“Dark colors, floral prints, and sweet-smelling perfumes or colognes can attract mosquitoes, so avoid wearing those,” Campbell.