Thousands raised for Mass. girl with rare EEE disease

As Massachusetts and other parts of New England scramble to respond to a breakout of a rare mosquito-borne virus, one little girl’s story is providing some much-needed hope.

Sophia Garabedian, a 5-year-old girl from the Massachusetts town of Sudbury, was hospitalized in early September after contracting Eastern equine encephalitis, a mosquito-borne illness that can cause deadly brain swelling. Sophia’s illness was one of several cases of the virus that have recently sprouted up in the New England area. So far, at least three people in the United State have died of the disease this year.

Sophia’s dire condition sparked the concern of thousands of strangers online, and a verified GoFundMe for the little girl’s medical expenses has now topped $150,000.

But that’s not the best news. According to a representative of the Garabedian family, Sophia has been moved out of the ICU at Boston Children’s Hospital and is currently listed in fair condition.

“Sophia continues to make progress and has been moved out of the ICU,” an update on the GoFundMe page reads. “She has begun PT, OT and speech therapy as she continues to show signs of improvement. This morning she had pet therapy. We would like to thank everyone for their support, thoughtfulness and generosity.”

EEE is very rare — according to the CDC, there are only about 5-10 reported cases in the United States every year. However, about 30% of EEE cases end up being fatal. A surge of EEE activity can be detected by looking for infected animals like chickens, and these warning signs have recently cropped up in the northeastern US and Florida.

Sophia’s family first knew something was wrong when the little girl began to experience headaches, flu-like symptoms and what appeared to be seizures. These are all common symptoms among EEE sufferers. Severe cases of EEE can also result in comas and brain damage. The CDC says there is no specific treatment for EEE, and survivors often battle lasting neurological issues.