Deadly mosquito-borne virus hits the Midwest

PEORIA, Ill. – A deadly mosquito-borne virus is spreading throughout the Midwest and Northeast.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis, also known as Triple-E, has killed five people so far.

According to the CDC, thirty percent of people with Triple-E die, and many survivors have continual neurological problems.

While the disease is extremely rare, USDA Research Entomologist Jose Ramirez says it’s wise to be prepared.

“In order for the disease to emerge, we have to have three main components. We have to have the virus, we have to have the source where the virus is coming from, and we have to have the mosquito,” Ramirez said.

The encephalitis, or brain infection, takes a long path to get to humans.

It begins when a culiseta melanura mosquito bites a bird, the bird flies up North, where it gets bit by a mosquito referred to as a ‘bridge vector.’

When the bridge vector interacts with the bird, the disease can be transferred to humans or horses.

“These mosquitoes and the birds that carry these viruses live in swamp areas, with specific trees. Maple trees, for example. It is the combination of the ecosystem, the specific birds that carries this virus that travel from Florida, South America, or Central America to the northern U.S. to breed,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez says Illinois has 51 species of mosquitoes in the state, and the mosquito which begins the process of the disease does exist here. But the virus has not made its way to the state yet.

Sara Sparkman with the Tazewell County Health Department said she learned about the infection from cases in other states.

“What happens usually when something like this happens, the CDC is notified first, and then they’ll send out a health alert,” Sparkman said.

Recently, the Tazewell County Health Department confirmed it had multiple cases of the West Nile Virus.

Sparkman says mosquitoes are prevalent from dusk to dawn, and it’s important to wear long-sleeved shirts and apply insect repellent with DEET.

“If you have any standing water, make sure you’re dumping that water. If you have a bird bath or a kiddy pool up because it’s hot outside, make sure that water is being dumped and changed at least weekly,” Sparkman said.

And because humans are traveling more, so are diseases.

“With the way people are so mobile, we’re flying across the country every other day it seems like,” Sparkman said.

“People are moving a lot more so diseases and other issues are traveling with us.”