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EEE, West Nile detected in Cape May County

Mosquito-borne diseases are spreading in Cape May County.

So far this summer, the Department of Mosquito Control has detected eastern equine encephalitis in five mosquito collections: four in Upper Township and one in Lower Township.  

A 7-year-old horse from Cape May County was euthanized on Aug. 3, one day after showing neurologic symptoms for a serious, mosquito-borne illness, county officials announced.

Tests on the horse concluded the animal was infected with eastern equine encephalitis.

“Horse owners need to be vigilant in vaccinating their animals against diseases spread by mosquitoes,” said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher. “Vaccinated animals are much less likely to contract deadly diseases such as EEE and West Nile Virus.”

The Cape May horse was obtained from a horse rescue program two weeks before the onset of the illness and the animal’s vaccination history was unknown.

West Nile virus has been detected in six mosquito collections, too. There have been four in Middle Township, one in Upper Township and one in Dennis Township and in a bird found in Lower Township. 

Freeholder Kristine Gabor reminded residents that August and September are months when mosquito-borne diseases are more frequently detected.

The Department of Mosquito Control has been and will continue to test and spray for mosquitoes in the affected areas.  There are no reported human cases of West Nile virus or eastern equine encephalitis in Cape May County this year, officials say.

“Finding West Nile virus and EEE in our area is a reminder for people to take precautions when participating in outdoor activities, particularly during the early morning hours and the early evening hours,” Health Officer Kevin Thomas said in a prepared statement. “Residents should wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and use mosquito repellent. People should also eliminate any standing water on their property that may serve as a habitat for mosquitoes and keep window screens in good repair.”

While there are no human vaccines for these diseases, vaccines are available for horses.  Horse owners should discuss vaccinations with their veterinarian.

West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis are both transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito that has acquired the virus from an infected bird. Person-to-person transmission is rare, but may occur through blood transfusions or breastfeeding, officials say.

Most West Nile virus infections are mild and people often have no symptoms. However, symptoms may show up three to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. 

Mild symptoms include flu-like illness with fever, headache, body aches, nausea and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash. Severe symptoms include high fever, neck stiffness, confusion and swelling of the brain, known encephalitis, which can lead to coma, convulsions or death.

Infection with eastern equine encephalitis virus can cause a range of illnesses. Most people infected with the virus have no symptoms; others get only a mild flu-like illness with fever, headache and a sore throat. People experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care.

In rare cases, infection of the central nervous system occurs, causing sudden fever, muscle pains and a headache of increasing severity, often followed quickly by seizures and coma. In these rare instances, about one-third of patients die from the disease. Of those who survive, many suffer permanent brain damage.

To assist with the identification of areas where the viruses are circulating, residents should report dead birds to the Health Department at 465-1209. Birds may be collected for testing and information on dead birds is shared with the Department of Mosquito Control, which will test mosquitoes in these areas.

More information on mosquito-borne diseases is available at cmchealth.net.


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