Mosquito-borne virus that causes brain swelling, death in humans detected in Florida

Aedes aegypti Mosquito. Close up a Mosquito sucking human blood.
A mosquito-borne virus that can be fatal to humans found in the U.S. (Photo: Getty Images)

Summer often means mosquitoes are out in full force, but these biting insects aren’t just an annoyance — in some cases, they can be dangerous.

A mosquito-borne virus that causes brain swelling and can be fatal in humans was detected in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.

After being bitten by an infected mosquito, it takes four to 10 days to develop symptoms of the Eastern equine encephalitis virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In severe cases involving brain inflammation, symptoms start with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting. The infection can then progress, causing disorientation, seizures, and coma.

About 30 percent of people who become infected with the virus die, and many survivors are left with chronic neurological problems from mild to severe brain damage, according to the CDC.

Although infection is extremely rare (in the United States, an average of just seven human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis are reported annually) for those who are bitten by an infected mosquito, there are no specific treatment options. Antibiotics are not effective against the virus, according to the CDC, and as of yet, there are no effective antiviral drugs to fight the disease.

So what can you do to protect yourself — particularly if you live in Florida, along with Massachusetts, New York, or North Carolina where most cases have been reported? The best way to guard against becoming infected with the virus is to prevent mosquito bites in the first place. Here’s how:

Use an insect repellent

Keep mosquitoes at bay with an effective insect repellent or pesticide. The CDC recommends using Environment Protection Agency-registered ones with ingredients such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. The EPA has a tool to help you find the repellent that’s right for you. Ask your children’s pediatrician for safe insect repellent options for kids and how to apply them safely.

If you’re using sunscreen — something everyone needs to do daily, year-round — apply the sunscreen first, followed by the insect repellent.

Wear protective clothing

If mosquitos are in your area, opt for lightweight long-sleeve shirts, pants, and socks to cover up exposed skin. You can also spray the pesticide permethrin on clothing, including socks and shoes (not while you’re wearing it), for an extra layer of protection. Since the product is a pesticide, it’s important to follow the instructions to the letter. Do not use permethrin directly on your skin.

Drain standing water

Standing water attracts mosquitoes. So the CDC recommends draining any standing water on your property, including buckets, barrels, tire swings and other containers such as kids’ plastic or inflatable pools, along with maintaining swimming pools. Also, make sure windows (and doors, if possible) have screens that are intact to keep mosquitoes out.

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