A seven-year-old girl in Alabama has died after contracting a virus from a mosquito that leads to life-threatening brain swelling.
The second-grader, who has not been named, became infected with eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) — a rare virus that kills up to one in three of those it infects.
The fatality marks the first reported death linked to the virus in Alabama this year and the second case statewide, after another was also detected in Spanish Fort, an Alabama city on the Gulf Coast.
The virus was also detected in horses in New York this year, although no cases have appeared in humans.
The cases of EEE follow multiple diagnoses of locally-transmitted malaria, another mosquito-born disease, which were detected in Florida and Texas this year. Additionally, two people in Michigan tested positive for the rare mosquito-carried ‘Jamestown Canyon virus’.
The girl, who has not been named, contracted eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) from a mosquito bite — a rare virus that kills up to one in three of those it infects. Mosquitoes pick up the virus from birds (stock image)
The girl’s fatality was announced by Alabama’s Department of Public Health, which said the infection had taken place over the past few weeks.
The second EEE patient was also infected around the same time, the department said, and also lived within Spanish Fort.
EEE is a rare disease, with only about 11 cases reported annually in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The virus is picked up by mosquitoes when they bite birds, which carry the virus but have no symptoms. The insects then transmit the virus to humans when they bite them.
It gets its name from the infection it causes in horses, which can lead to severe neurological symptoms like walking around in circles and pressing their heads against walls or other objects.
Humans who are infected start to show symptoms about four to ten days after contracting the virus.
The infection may begin with symptoms like a sudden onset of a headache, high fever, chills and vomiting.
In severe cases, EEE can progress to disorientation, seizures, encephalitis — inflammation of the brain — and a coma.
There are no vaccines or cures for the disease, instead doctors rely on a variety of treatments to manage symptoms and help patients.
The CDC says about 30 percent of patients die from the disease. In horses, this rate rises to as high as 95 percent.
People under 15 years old and over 50 years old are particularly at risk of death from the disease.
In response to the cases in Spanish Fort, authorities are spraying insecticide in an attempt to kill mosquitoes that could be carrying the virus.
Mike McMillan, the mayor of Spanish Fort said in a meeting this week the town was already spraying areas once a week to kill mosquitoes, AL.com reports.
But, he added, they could not do this more regularly in case insects developed resistance — which would ‘defeat the purpose’.
Efforts to kill the mosquitoes are being complicated by the fact the city is not sure which species of the insect is carrying the infection. They have placed traps this week to catch mosquitoes so they can be tested for the virus.
Mr McMillan said: ‘We are adjacent to a swamp, the Delta. There are a lot of different breeds of mosquitos’.
He added: ‘We are doing all we can do until we get a determination of the species’.