The EEE-Mosquito Virus Is Coming — Should People With Cancer Be Worried? How To Protect Yourself

Published Jun 11, 2020

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore SurvivorNet

What is the EEE Virus?

  • Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is a mosquito-born virus that causes brain swelling, fever and coma in humans, and can lead to death
  • Some epidemiologists think that warming climates may make EEE more prominent in the United States, especially in North Eastern states, in summers
  • Still, the virus is rare — and researchers aren’t sure yet whether 2020’s mosquito season will lead to many cases

As much of the United States remains in semi-lockdown as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there is another virus that people with compromised immune systems (including cancer patients) should be aware of — the mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus. But don’t throw all outdoor summer plans out just yet. The virus — while dangerous — is rare. As summer is upon us, here’s what you need to know about the EEE virus.

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What is Eastern Equine Encephalitis?

EEE is a virus that causes brain swelling, fever and coma. About one third of people who come in contact with the virus die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and many who survive are left with lasting neurological problems. This virus cannot be transmitted from human to human, but can be transmitted to a human through a mosquito bite.

Cases of EEE, although still rare, have begun to become more common in the U.S. Northeast, with some epidemiologists suggesting that changing climates that are more conducive to thriving mosquito seasons may be the reason we’ve been seeing a slight increase in EEE cases over the past decade or so. Last summer people died of the virus in several Northeast states — including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. In total, 15 people died of the virus in 2019, according to a OneZero report.

Will There Be an EEE Outbreak This Summer?

EEE is expected to make a comeback in the summer of 2020, Dr. Catherine Brown, the state epidemiologist for Massachusetts, told Boston.com. It’s not possible yet for researchers to predict what kind of mosquito season the Northeast will have yet, but there is some evidence — like a mild winter — to suggest that it will be a busy one.

Epidemiologists are currently trying to size up what this year’s outbreak might look like.

Who is the Most at Risk?

Like COVID-19, EEE tends to be more dangerous for adults over the age of 50 and people with compromised immune systems (such as people who have been through cancer treatment or organ transplants). EEE can also be dangerous for children under the age of 15, according to Boston Children’s Hospital.

People who fall into these groups may be more likely to have a serious reaction if they contract the virus.

What Can We Do to Stay Safe?

Right now, researchers don’t know for sure that the Northeast will see another active EEE season. Dr. Brown told Boston.com that the public will be alerted around mid-June if there is any indication that special precautions should be taken to combat the spread of EEE.

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Since mosquitos and other insects can carry plenty of other viruses (and leave you with plenty of uncomfortable bites or sings), it’s always a good idea to have a good insect repellent on-hand if you are planning to spend some time outside in a grassy or wooded area.

The CDC recommends bug sprays that contain one of the following active ingredients for maximum protection:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin (known as KBR 3023 and icaridin outside the US)
  • IR3535
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
  • Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
  • 2-undecanone

The organization also recommends wearing clothing that will provide ample protection from bug bites when outside in specific areas.

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