Sen. Murphy tours mosquito lab studying EEE virus, will push for more funding

Greenwich Time

NEW HAVEN — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., wants to ensure Connecticut continues vital research into Eastern Equine Encephalitis after a second person died from the disease this week.

Murphy toured the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station mosquito lab, which is responsible for tracking and researching vector borne diseases, to see firsthand how the lab is furthering knowledge about the disease.

“The more research we can do on vector borne diseases, the closer we’ll get to be able to develop treatments, prevention methods and cures,” Murphy said.

The state Department of Public Health reported this week a second person in the state died as a result of Eastern Equine Encephalitis this year. The deaths were in Old Lyme and East Lyme.

“The more we know about where EEE is and where West Nile is, the more we can give good policy recommendations to local communities and to public heath officials on how to deal with it,” Murphy said

Funded by a five-year, $10 million grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention it received in 2017, CAES researches these vector borne diseases

It takes four to 10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito to develop symptoms, according to the CDC. It’s possible that some people who become infected with EEE may not develop symptoms.

There’s no prescribed treatment or vaccine for people who contract the disease and about a third of people with EEE die from the disease.

There are two ways people may develop infection — systemic or encephalitic, involving brain swelling.

Systemic infection has an abrupt onset characterized by chills, fever, malaise, arthralgia, and myalgia. The illness lasts one to two weeks and recovery is complete when there is no central nervous system involvement.

In older children and adults, encephalitis manifests after a few days of systemic illness. Encephalitic patients might show symptoms of fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and coma. In infants, encephalatic onset is abrupt.

The CAES found four instances of EEE this week.

Philip Armstrong, director of the mosquito surveillance program, said CAES started monitoring EEE in the late 1990s when Connecticut had an outbreak of along the Rhode Island border.

“This year is really unusual,” he said.

The lab has been detecting high levels of EEE virus primarily in the eastern half of the state and it will continue to monitor the trap locations until around mid to late October when the first hard frost usually sets in, he said.

The eastern part of the state has a lot of fresh water swamps, in which the mosquito that carries the EEE virus commonly lives, Armstrong said. West Nile, in contrast, is found more in urban areas.

Detection of the EEE virus have mainly been in rural parts of the state and primarily the mosquito species carrying it feeds on birds.

“Everyone wants to know why we’re seeing so much eastern activity and the bottom line is we really don’t know,” Andreadis said. The lab did know that the population concentration of the mosquito that carries this virus was high this year.

“We knew early on that this was likely going to be a bad year,” he said.

“A lot of these diseases are unpredictable and erratic,” Andreadis said. However, West Nile is a little more dependable and Connecticut tends to see it every year, though not usually in the high concentrations that occurred in 2018, he said.

The traps are set out overnight at 92 locations across the state. They can capture as many as 10,000 mosquitoes in one night. By monitoring the buildup of a virus in the mosquito populations the lab can predict the threat to humans before people are infected, Armstrong said.

The lab technicians identify the species of each mosquito under a microscope to sort for testing. In the another lab, the vials of mosquitoes are ground down into cell cultures and in these cultures are where the virus can first be detected.

Armstrong said if a new virus appears in the cultures, the lab will also be able to detect it, much like they did when they initially found West Nile.

Murphy said the CDC has made a big commitment to underwriting the experiment station and his getting a firsthand look at what they’re doing to save lives is going to help push for more money from the federal government.

“There’s only a handful of centers around the Northeast that do the work that is done here,” Murphy said. The program is almost entirely funded through state money, Andreadis said.

Andreadis said without the federal funding they wouldn’t be able to continue their research and as they are seeing disease populations increase, continued research relies heavily on those funds.

During a press conference Tuesday about the second death, Renée Coleman-Mitchell, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, spoke about receiving an email from the victim’s family, announcing the death. “It was very, very sad to read the email, but at the same time, the family felt very compelled that we as a department and a state really share information in terms of precautions that can be taken.”

The state has been beating the drum about making sure residents know how to prevent their risk of contracting EEE. That has included adding cautionary messaging to digital highway signs all over the state, directing people to get more information about EEE on the state’s web site, www.ct.gov/eee.

While only a few weeks remain before the mosquitoes die off, Armstrong said they still recommend avoiding being outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active; wear clothing that covers your arms and legs; and apply bug repellent.