How to protect yourself, pets from deadly EEE virus

How to protect yourself, pets from deadly EEE virus
James Gathany/CDC

A 10th person has died from Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), a rare mosquito-borne illness.

It’s the fourth Massachusetts resident to die from EEE, which can cause brain swelling, in 2019. Previous deaths occurred in Connecticut, Michigan and Rhode Island.

This year’s EEE outbreak has been particularly severe, with 27 human cases of the virus in six states since August.

Several animals, mostly horses and goats, have gotten the virus, too. A Mexican gray wolf pup died at a Michigan zoo last week after an EEE diagnosis, though officials said it was rare for canines to contract the illness.

If local health officials have issued EEE warnings for your county, don’t panic. Here’s how to keep your family, including its furrier members, safe from the virus.

Go heavy on the repellent

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends EPA-approved mosquito repellents, particularly those that contain DEET, a powerful active ingredient in many repellents, or the oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Luckily, it’s quite rare for domestic animals like cats and dogs to be diagnosed with EEE (it’s named for its prevalence in horses, after all). It’s still possible though, so ask your veterinarian for a repellent approved for animal use.

Unless you have a stable of horses, you can’t get an EEE vaccine. The only EEE shot is made exclusively for equines.

Stay indoors between dusk and dawn

As the days grow shorter, it gets increasingly difficult to beat the sunset. But Sam Telford, a Tufts University professor and expert in mosquito-borne illnesses, encourages people to try: Mosquitoes are most active in the dark, so it’s best to stay indoors then and avoid them entirely.

Try telling that to a pet that urgently needs to use the restroom. If an animal needs to relieve itself or play outside at night, it’s best to keep them on a deck or patio that’s screened in — it keeps mosquitoes out.

But mosquitoes can still strike while the sun’s up. The pests are attracted to shade, he said, so be aware of any buzzing while you retreat from the heat.

If you want to sit on your porch past sundown, Telford suggests firing up a powerful fan or two — he says mosquitoes can’t fly against the wind. The same goes for any barns where larger animals like horses or alpaca are kept.

Sleep under a mosquito net

If you’re sleeping outside or in a room without screens, consider sleeping under a mosquito net.

The CDC recommends nets that follow the World Health Organization’s criteria: white, rectangular, with 156 holes per square inch. Nets treated with permethrin, an insecticide, are most effective.

Wear long sleeves and pants

In much of the country, it’s still quite hot. But the CDC suggests covering up exposed skin on the arms and legs so infected mosquitoes can’t bite it.

For extra coverage, spray permethrin on clothes, socks and shoes or buy pre-treated clothing. But use caution if you do it yourself, because permethrin shouldn’t be applied directly on the skin.

Empty out stagnant water

Any pools of standing water, whether in a bird bath, an old tire or a puddle, are prime breeding spots for mosquitoes. So be sure to empty them out — particularly in areas your pets frequent.

The CDC also encourages scrubbing mosquito-friendly spots, including buckets and trash cans, at least once a week for good measure to make sure any mosquito eggs don’t hatch.