EEE confirmed in youth's death
Tests also show third horse died from virus
By BILL CRIST, Publisher
Test results released late last week confirmed what one local family has suspected since 8-year old Emilio Rivera of Brewton died on July 26.
Officials with the Alabama Dept. of Public Health said that they were informed Thursday by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta that a pre-teenaged Escambia County resident had died as a result of contracting Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).
Results for a 67-year old Castleberry man, who is suspected to have contracted the virus as well, are still pending.
Both EEE and West Nile Virus (WNV) are spread through mosquito bites, and symptoms among those infected are similar. However, EEE is far more deadly, with roughly 30 percent of each incidence leading to death.
The Escambia County case of EEE marks the first death the state has seen since 1996, and only the 154th nationwide since 1964.
Escambia County Medical Examiner Dr. Dan Raulerson said that deaths from EEE are extremely rare, and that he did not know if there had been a previous instance when it had resulted in two fatalities over the span of 24 hours.
The cases have prompted a group of entomologists from Auburn University to travel to Escambia County to trap mosquitoes for study.
According to Ricky Elliott, an environmental officer with the Escambia County Health Department, the group was in the area late last week.
In addition to the one confirmed and one suspected case of EEE in humans, three horses here have died because of the virus.
Elliott said he suspects that there are more cases of EEE that are going unreported.
Dr. Tony Frazier, a veterinarian at the state vet's office, agreed.
But horse owners are encouraged to have a working relationship with a veterinarian for several reasons.
Horses are considered a dead end host of EEE and West Nile virus, meaning that it is virtually impossible for them to transmit it directly to a human without a mosquito vector.
There have been 28 confirmed equine deaths in Alabama from EEE.
Frazier said horse owners need to make sure their animals are vaccinated early in the spring and get a booster in the late summer, the height of mosquito activity. He includes it in a series of steps that humans would use to keep themselves safe. Those steps are vaccination of the horses, control of the mosquitoes, protection of humans from bites by mosquitoes, and reporting sick or dead horses and birds.
Atmore veterinarian Dr. Hank Lee is also as concerned with EEE as he is with West Nile.
Lee contends that it is far cheaper to vaccinate, with the cost of shots being about $7 for EEE and about $21 for West Nile. Each shot is given in a series of two, and that is the cost of the vaccine itself, not for a farm call to administer the shots. But treatments for EEE are usually in vain -- there is a better than 90 percent mortality among horses with the disease.
Treatment for WNV can easily run into the thousands of dollars.