PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New Jersey is among six states where people have been infected with a rare but deadly virus spread by mosquitoes. There are at least seven deaths as health investigations continue.
Locally, there are no human cases of eastern equine encephalitis in Pennsylvania or Delaware, but there are people in New Jersey who have the virus. Mosquitoes have tested positive for the potentially deadly virus across the state.
EEE is a rare but potentially fatal illness that’s spread by mosquito bites.
The New Jersey Department of Health says three human cases have been confirmed in Union, Atlantic and Somerset Counties and the virus has also been detected in 65 mosquito samples in 13 counties.
“We are seeing more cases at this time of year, or for an entire year, than we typically do. This is a typical time of season that we do see it,” said Dr. Edward Lifshitz with the New Jersey Department of Health. “But as to why that’s happening in New Jersey, or up and down the East Coast for that matter, we don’t have a good answer.”
Lifshitz says the virus is carried by birds, but it’s spread by mosquitoes to humans and horses.
“We urge people to be aware and educated, meaning we’re not looking to spread panic over this. This is certainly very serious, it’s also still rare,” Lifshitz said.
The EEE virus causes severe brain inflammation in about 2% of infected adults and 6% of infected children.
In Michigan, Ronna Bagent’s father, Stan Zalner, has the virus.
“No one really knew what was wrong with him,” Bagent said.
Tests confirmed EEE and Zalner remains in a coma.
“It’s just one little tiny mosquito and it can cause horrible neurological effects,” Bagent said.
While EEE is rare, the mortality rate is high — usually at least 30% — and many who recover continue to have neurological problems.
Officials urge people to guard against mosquitoes bites, which are more likely at dawn and dusk, to use insect repellent and to get rid of standing water, where the mosquitoes breed.
Early symptoms of EEE are flu-like with headache and fever. But not everyone who’s infected will develop serious symptoms.
In Pennsylvania, the virus has been found in birds and horses but not in people. It’s best to avoid mosquito bites.