New Jersey has seen more cases of Eastern equine encephalitis than usual this summer, and those cases have come earlier in the season.
Four cases have been reported in horses so far this year. In the past five years, there have been only eight cases altogether.
Different mosquitoes carry West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, but with a bumper crop of bugs this summer, infection rates for both are up.
New Jersey state veterinarian Dr. Manoel Tamassia said the four horses infected this year have died from EEE or been euthanized after contracting it.
“If you have horses, of course you should be concerned,” Tamassia said, adding horse owners should make sure their animals are vaccinated against the disease.
The state Department of Health watches EEE numbers to track the level of infection in mosquitoes.
But state epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan said those mosquitoes rarely infect humans.
“We’ve been very fortunate here in New Jersey, we haven’t seen a case of EEE since 2003. And we hope to continue that particular trend,” Tan said.
In humans, EEE can cause flulike symptoms, and sometimes more severe neurological problems including coma and death.
Protecting yourself from mosquito bites is the best way to avoid both West Nile and EEE.
Tan said infection rates for both may continue to climb in the upcoming weeks.
“We tend to see more cases in the late summer to early fall,” Tan said. “But a lot of mosquito-borne disease activity can vary based on a lot of other factors including whether or not people are indoors and they’re staying away from mosquitoes and if they’re taking those prevention measures.”
There have been eight confirmed cases of West Nile virus in New Jersey so far, and 16 — including one fatal case — in Pennsylvania.