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A 90-year-old Levy County man is dead after contracting eastern equine encephalitis, according to the Levy County Health Department.
Health Department Director Barbara Locke said Thursday the man, who was not able to be identified because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, got the disease some time in the middle of January and died about a week later.
"It's unusual," Locke said. "We're the first human case (in 2013) for the state."
It's also the first confirmed case ever for human infection of EEE in the county, she said.
Locke said it's likely the man, who lived a few miles outside of Bronson near County Road 337, contracted the disease in Levy County.
"You can never be absolutely sure," she said, "But we're pretty sure. It's pretty likely," she said, adding that the man rarely traveled out of the county.
The disease, first identified in the 1930s, is transmitted from birds by infected mosquitoes to humans and horses.
Locke said one horse this year, about 25 miles north of the Marion County line, has also died from the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of six people a year in the U.S. contract EEE, usually in Florida, Georgia, Massachussets or New Jersey.
The disease is usually transmitted to people living near freshwater hardwood swamps and is considered one of the most severe diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. It kills about 33 percent of the humans who are infected, and most survivors suffer from significant brain damage due to the swelling that it causes.
Florida, since 1964, has had the most cases at 70, though only one case in the state was confirmed last year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and it was in Holmes County, near the Florida-Georgia border.
"It's pretty unusual," Locke said. "If the state has two or three cases a year, that's about the most of it."
According to the Florida Department of Health, signs of the sickness usually show up three to 10 days after being infected and begin with a sudden fever, general muscle pains and a headache that continues to get worse.
After one to two weeks, symptoms get more severe. Athough the sickness does go away in some, for others, after one to two weeks, symptoms become worse and include vomiting, seizures, focal neurological deficits and coma.
People over the age of 50 and under the age of 15 are most at risk from the effects of the disease, according to FDOH.
A press release from the county's health department states that it and Levy County Mosquito Control continue to monitor the situation. Horses and livestock should be vaccinated, the department warns, and area citizens should protect themselves by following the "Drain and Cover":
DRAIN standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying
• Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected.
• Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.
• Empty and clean birdbaths and pet's water bowls at least once or twice a week.
• Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.
• Maintain swimming pools in good condition and appropriately chlorinated. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.
COVER skin with clothing or repellent
CLOTHING - Wear shoes, socks, and long pants and long-sleeves. This type of protection may be necessary for people who must work in areas where mosquitoes are present.
REPELLENT - Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing.
Always use repellents according to the label. Repellents with DEET(N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide), picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 are effective.
Use mosquito netting to protect children younger than 2 months old.
COVER doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out of your house
Repair broken screening on windows, doors, porches, and patios.
Tips on Repellent Use:
• Always read label directions carefully for the approved usage before you apply a repellent. Some repellents are not suitable for children.
• Products with concentrations of up to 30 percent DEET are generally recommended. Other US Environmental Protection • Agency-approved repellents contain Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535. These products are generally available at local pharmacies. Look for active ingredients to be listed on the product label.
• Apply insect repellent to exposed skin, or onto clothing, but not under clothing.
• In protecting children, read label instructions to be sure the repellent is age-appropriate. According to the CDC, mosquito repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under the age of three years. • DEET is not recommended on children younger than two months old.
• Avoid applying repellents to the hands of children. Adults should apply repellent first to their own hands and then transfer it to the child’s skin and clothing.
• If additional protection is necessary, apply a permethrin repellent directly to your clothing. Again, always follow the manufacturer’s directions.